FACT CHECK: Do These Photos Show Directed-Energy Weapons Starting Wildfires?

Trevor Schakohl | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook purportedly shows three different photographs of “direct energy weapons” starting wildfires.

Verdict: False

The picture on the left shows a rocket launch; the other two images depict optical phenomena.

Fact Check:

Directed-energy weapons use focused light, sound or particle beams to damage targeted objects. A number of nations, including the U.S., Russia and India, are currently developing such weapons for military purposes.

A viral image, posted Oct. 28, falsely alleged that three different photographs show directed-energy weapons starting wildfires, with the caption saying, “This is what is believed to be responsible for those #California wild fires (sic) it’s called ‘DEW’ direct energy weapons.” (RELATED: Did Climate Change Cause The California Wildfires?)

The image on the left actually shows a SpaceX rocket launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California last year. The original photograph, found through a reverse image search, appears on the aerospace company’s official Instagram page.

The upper-right photo, debunked by Snopes in 2018, likely depicts light from a controlled gas flare at an Ohio oil refinery reflecting off ice particles in the atmosphere. This optical phenomenon, also called a light pillar, can occur in cold weather conditions.

Tweeted out by the Forest Service of Klamath National Forest, the lower-right picture does show a California wildfire – and a white line appearing to extend from the sky to the ground. The Forest Service, whose firefighters took the photo, clarified in another tweet that the line was a camera lens flare.

Media outlets have debunked similar conspiracy theories related to wildfires on numerous occasions in recent years.

Trevor Schakohl

Fact Check Reporter
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