Eyewitness accounts and videos indicate that sparks from power lines caused the fire when power poles were snapped by strong winds caused by a passing storm.
LAHAINA, Hawaii – Maui County sued Hawaii Electric Company on Thursday about the fire that ravaged Lahainasaid the utility company negligently failed to turn off the power despite strong winds and dry conditions.
Witness accounts and videos showed that sparks from power lines caused fires when power poles snapped in the wind due to a thrust the storm passed. The August 8 fire killed at least 115 people and left several others missing, making it the deadliest fire in the US in more than a century.
A spokesperson for Hawaiian Electric did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
“This devastation could have been avoided,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit says the utility company has a duty to “properly maintain and repair power transmission lines and other equipment including poles involved in the transmission of electricity, while keeping properly trimmed and maintained to avoid contact with overhead power lines and other electrical equipment.”
The lawsuit said the utility knew that high winds “would topple power poles, topple power lines, and burn vegetation.” “The defendants also knew that if their overhead electrical equipment caused a fire, it would spread at an extremely rapid rate.”
ONE drought in the area has caused vegetation, including invasive grasses, to dry out to dangerous levels. As Hurricane Dora passed about 500 miles (800 km) south of Hawaii, strong winds knocked down at least 30 power poles in West Maui. Video taken by a Lahaina resident shows a downed power line causing hay to catch on fire. Firefighters initially brought the fire under control but then left to make other calls, and residents said the fire then flared up again and spread towards downtown Lahaina.
With power lines down, police or utility crews blocked some roads, bringing traffic to a standstill along Lahaina’s Front Street. Some residents jumped into the water off Maui as they tried to escape the burning debris and overheated black smoke that enveloped the city center.
Dozens of searchers wearing snorkel gear this week scoured a 4-mile (6.4 km) stretch of water for signs of anyone who may have been killed. Forces are also working to find remains among the ashes of destroyed businesses and multi-storey residential buildings.
Currently, the confirmed death toll is 115, a number the county said is expected to rise. The FBI and Maui County police are still trying to figure out how many others may be missing. The FBI said Tuesday there are between 1,000 and 1,100 names on the tentative, unconfirmed list.
Hawaiian Electric is a publicly traded, investor-owned, for-profit utility company serving 95% of Hawaii’s electricity customers. It is also facing several lawsuits from Lahaina residents as well as a lawsuit from some of its own investors, who have accused them of fraud in a federal lawsuit on Thursday, saying that they did not disclose that their forest fire prevention and safety measures were inadequate.
The Maui County lawsuit notes that other utility companies, such as Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric, have procedures to shut off power during severe storms and allow know that “serious and catastrophic losses…can easily happen”. blocked” if Hawaiian Electric plans to do the same.
The county said it is seeking damages to public property and resources in nearby Lahaina and Kula.
More recently, other utilities have been blamed for devastating fires.
In June, an Oregon jury found the power company PacifiCorp responsible for causing Terrible fire during Labor Day weekend 2020asked the company to pay tens of millions of dollars to the 17 homeowners who sued and found the company liable for larger damages that could push the total compensation into the billions of dollars.
Pacific Gas & Power declared bankruptcy and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter after its neglected device sparked a fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills in 2018, destroying nearly 19,000 homes, businesses and other buildings and nearly leveling the town of Paradise, California .