Hawaiian Electric says lawsuit is ‘factually and legally irresponsible.’ It blames Maui for the tragedy

Hawaiian Electric says lawsuit is ‘factually and legally irresponsible.’ It blames Maui for the tragedy
Credit: Hawaiian Electric

While the ash is still settling and hundreds of people are unaccounted for, the county of Maui has brought forth a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric for its role in a wildfire that killed at least 115 people in Lahaina.

The lawsuit alleges that Hawaiian Electric failed to properly maintain its system and failed to shut off the power despite a red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service. Additional reports claim bare wire and leaning poles were to blame for the fire.

In a statement, CEO of Hawaiian Electric, Shelee Kimura acknowledged that there are “important lessons to be learned” from the tragic event, and urged the public to embrace the Hawaiian spirit of “collective strength and unity of our community.”

The utility believes its equipment was not at fault for starting the fire and laid out the timeline below:

  1. A fire at 6:30 a.m. (the Morning Fire) appears to have been caused by power lines that fell in high winds.
  2. The Maui County Fire Department responded to this fire, reported it was “100% contained,” left the scene and later declared it had been “extinguished.”
  3. At about 3 p.m., a time when all of Hawaiian Electric’s power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours, a second fire (the Afternoon Fire) began in the same area.
  4. The cause of the devastating Afternoon Fire has not been determined.

“We were surprised and disappointed that the County of Maui rushed to court even before completing its own investigation,” Kimura said. “We believe the complaint is factually and legally irresponsible. It is inconsistent with the path that we believe we should pursue as a resilient community committed and accountable to each other as well as to Hawaiʻi’s future.”

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Utility says Maui is at fault for the fires

Kimura said the utility is “ready to work” with the communities impacted by the fires but cautioned that “the county’s lawsuit may leave us no choice in the legal system but to show its responsibility for what happened that day.”

Outlined below are additional details offered in the statement from Hawaiian Electric:

The records conclusively establish that Hawaiian Electric power lines to Lahaina were not energised when the Afternoon Fire broke out shortly before 3pm on August 8, in a field near Lahaina Intermediate School. Power had been out for more than six hours by that time. There was no electricity flowing through the wires in the area or anywhere else on the West Maui coast. Hawaiian Electric has informed ATF investigators of the availability of records that demonstrate these facts.

The small Morning Fire, seen in videos taken by local residents, began more than eight hours earlier. Those videos show that power lines had fallen to the ground in high winds near the intersection of Lahainaluna Road and Hoʻokahua Street at approximately 6.30am. A small fire that can be seen by the downed lines spread into the field across the street from the Intermediate School.

The Maui County Fire Department responded promptly to the Morning Fire. According to the Department’s public statement that morning, by 9am the Morning Fire was “100% contained.” The Maui County fire chief subsequently reported that the Fire Department had determined that the Morning Fire was “extinguished,” and the Fire Department left the scene by 2pm.

Once the fire was out, Hawaiian Electric emergency crews arrived at Lahainaluna Road in the afternoon of August 8 to make repairs; they saw no fire or smoke or embers. All lines to Lahaina remained de-energised and all power in the area remained off.

Shortly before 3pm, while the power remained off, crew members saw a small fire about 75 yards away from Lahainaluna Road in the field near the Intermediate School. They immediately called 911 and reported that fire.

By the time the Maui County Fire Department arrived back on the scene, it was not able to contain the Afternoon Fire and it spread out of control toward Lahaina.

“The county’s lawsuit distracts from the important work that needs to be done for the people of Lahaina and Maui,” said Scott Seu, president and CEO of HEI. “Since the devastating fire in Lahaina, Hawaiian Electric’s focus has been supporting all of those who have been impacted and helping Maui recover. HEI stands with Hawaiian Electric and the community in rebuilding Lahaina and empowering a thriving future for Maui and the other islands we serve.”

Originally published on Power Grid.