When a wildfire tore through the small town of Lytton in British Columbia on 30 June, it consumed almost every building in the village, left burned-out cars and trucks in its wake, and blackened an area approximately 9000 square feet in size, leaving two residents dead.
While the cause of the fire is still being investigated, investigators believe it was man-made. The fire erupted days after Lytton broke the record for Canada’s all-time highest temperature for three days in a row, reaching 121.1F (49.5C).
Amidst the tragic loss of life and devastating destruction, conspiracy theorists have been making their way to the community 260kms north east of Vancouver in search of evidence of more nefarious explanations.
Days after the blaze had been extinguished, a “shirtless grey-bearded man” broadcast himself wandering through the town giving a freewheeling speech on his Facebook Live account, VICE reported.
The man posited fact-free theories that it might have actually been a giant laser that burned down the village.
His suspicions were heightened after noticing that some trees burned down and others didn’t.
Cars had burned out that “aren’t really flammable”, and the fruit of cherry trees no longer looked tasty.
VICE said the shirtless man was a “semi-recognizable player in the Canadian conspiracy scene” who had also taken part in last year’s anti-mask movement.
At least one other “active figure” in the conspiracy theory community has travelled to Lytton to interview survivors.
The bizarre theory that wildfires are caused by “space lasers” has been popular on the fringes of the internet since at least 2018.
It was linked to the California fire in the town of Camp that year that killed 85 people, and also received attention during the deadly bushfires in Australia from 2019 to 2020.
Often promoted by climate crisis deniers, the “space laser” theory was also pushed by Republican US Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene as a cause for the California wildfires in a 2018 Facebook post that surfaced after she was elected in 2020.
A spokeswoman for the British Columbia Wildfire Service told VICE she was aware of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Lytton blaze. The spokeswoman said it was common for fires to strike randomly, leaving pockets of untouched area among burned-out homes.
Authorities have not yet released what they believe to be the cause of the blaze, other than to say it was likely man-made.
The Independent reported how social media users had reported seeing sparks fly from train tracks before the fire broke out close to Canadian National Railway’s main line through Lytton.