There’s little to no evidence to support most of their claims, but that doesn’t stop blogs, forums, YouTube channels and other outlets from sharing sensational conspiracy-theorist explanations in the aftermath of tragedy.
Venture down the wrong path of Google or Wikipedia searches and you may find yourself in the thick of some alternative explanations for California’s deadly wildfires. Very, very alternative explanations.
Here’s just a sampling, most of them relating to last year’s fires. For reasons relating to their credibility, we won’t link directly to stories making claims of questionable veracity, but all theories listed below have been shared online by at least two different conspiracy enthusiast outlets. (Surf the web at your own risk.)
A number of theories emerged following last year’s fires claiming that the burn patterns seen in some photos could only be explained by targeted lasers, which must have been operated by terrorist groups, the U.S. government, aliens or some other agitated party. These lasers, supposedly, were shot at California from either planes or spaceships, perhaps unmanned drones, for reasons that were not entirely clear.
Some have claimed that California’s recent wildfires were planned efforts by clandestine groups, such as the Illuminati or the New World Order, either as a show of force or in an effort to distract the mainstream media. A few websites claim the lasers from the above conspiracy theory are an Illuminati product.
Extrapolating from reports that the 2017 wildfires destroyed expansive marijuana farms, some alternative news websites claimed (with little evidence) that drug cartels from Mexico or South America may have played a role in sparking some of the blazes.
Let’s quickly move on to the part where we debunk most of these claims.
Cal Fire has not yet determined the cause for the Tubbs Fire, which reportedly killed 24 people, but the state agency did determine a cause for most of them: 16 other Northern California fires last year were found to have been linked with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) equipment, including sagging power lines.
No Cal Fire investigation has shown any indication that drug cartels, Illuminati or aliens played any role in sparking or spreading last year’s deadly blazes, or any other wildfire in state history of significant size or destruction.
As for the lasers, conspiracy theorists had asked: How could it be that while some houses burned, the surrounding grass and foliage appeared perfectly fine? It must be the work of trillion-plus-watt laser beams raining down from the heavens, those theories said, linking to photos shared on the news.
But as Science Alert reported last December, there’s no evidence that this is the case, or that “direct energy” weapons have ever been used to start a wildfire. Science Alert further explained, with the help of biologists, that those strange patterns could be explained by the erratic natures of fire and wind, as well as moisture on wood preventing some spots from burning.
In other words, none of these out-there theories related to 2017 or 2018 wildfires has been proven true in any way.
Of note, though, some media outlets have described a suspect arrested this year for allegedly igniting a large wildfire as an “avid” conspiracy theorist.
Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, is accused of starting a 23,000-acre wildfire, called the Holy Fire, near a cabin in Orange County.
“His Facebook page is littered with links to popular conspiracy theories,” including ones related to the 9/11 terror attacks and the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Clark is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 28.
Wildfire conspiracy theories did not begin last year, but after the October 2017 and December wildfires ravaged the state, an uptick in creative backstories for destructive and deadly wildfires could be observed. A graph via Google Trends shows search traffic for the phrase “California wildfire conspiracy” peaked in the first two weeks of January 2018.
The phrase went virtually unsearched in the four years prior. The early stages of new conspiracies, ranging from the political to the scientific to just plain weird, have already sprouted again as the Camp Fire continues to burn in Butte County.
They may be even riper for theories this time around, as some celebrities have lost their Southern California homes to the Woolsey and Hill fires that ripped Ventura County, including Malibu.
Read the internet with caution.