Hawaiian Electric pushed back against claims it was responsible for the fire in Maui earlier this month, saying its power lines had been de-energized for more than six hours before the blaze.
Allegations came earlier this month that the utility company’s equipment and downed power lines caused the deadly fire that devastated the historic town of Lahaina.
Hundreds are still missing after the blaze.
As NBC News reported:
The company claims that its power lines had been de-energized earlier in the day in response to a morning fire, which the fire department said it had extinguished, disputing a key criticism that Hawaiian Electric had not shut off the power amid high winds and wildfires.
The company said in its statement that there were two fires on the day of the deadly inferno — the morning fire and one discovered by Hawaiian Electric workers in the afternoon. It admits the first was likely caused by its power lines, but it said the source of the second fire “has not been determined.”
The first fire broke out around 6:30 a.m., the Maui County Fire Department responded and later reported that it was “100% contained.” The fire department left the scene about 2 p.m. when the fire was considered “extinguished,” according to Hawaiian Electric’s statement.
The company said its workers then identified a second small fire at 3 p.m. near the same area — “about 75 yards away from Lahainaluna Road in the field near” Lahaina Intermediate School at “a time when all of Hawaiian Electric’s power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours.” The Hawaiian Electric employees allegedly called 911 to report the blaze, which firefighters were unable to control before it engulfed Lahaina.
Dogged by at least 11 other lawsuits in the wake of the fire, Hawaiian Electric has previously declined to comment on the active litigation that has sprouted as a result of the fire and that has heightened the criticism against the utility company.
The statement released Sunday was a response to a lawsuit filed by Maui County on Thursday.
“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 Hawaii’s future,” said Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO. “We continue to stand ready to work to that end with our communities and others.”
According to Maui County’s lawsuit, Hawaiian Electric was negligent as it failed to maintain the power grid before the fire.
The suit claims that the utility company’s “energized and downed power lines ignited dry fuel such as grass and brush, causing the fires.”
“To the extent HECO has information of a second ignition source, HECO should offer that evidence now,” said John Fiske, an attorney for Maui County, using an abbreviation for Hawaiian Electric.
“The ultimate responsibility rests with HECO to de-energize, ensure its equipment and systems are properly maintained, and ensure downed power lines are not energized.”
As the Daily Fetched reported earlier this month, Hawaiian Electric was too focused on green energy development to combat climate change to prepare for the safety of its existing infrastructure.
According to the WSJ, the company said it needed to take more action to ensure that its hardware did not emit sparks after the 2019 wildfire season, which was one of the worst in Maui’s history.
However, the firm did not appear to have done much work before one of its power lines sparked the fires, which killed at least 100 people.