Maui County has taken legal action against Hawaiian Electric, alleging negligence that led to the destructive fires in Lahaina. The county claims the utility failed to appropriately shut off power during extreme winds and dry conditions, resulting in downed power lines sparking wildfires that caused immense destruction and loss of life.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday, blames the utility for the wildfires that engulfed the historic town of Lahaina, causing the death of at least 115 individuals and displacing numerous residents. Witness accounts and wildfire videos suggest that power line sparks ignited fires when utility poles snapped due to hurricane-driven winds.
These fires, occurring on August 8, stand as the deadliest in the US in over a century. The lawsuit emphasizes that the destruction could have been prevented if the utility had properly maintained equipment and vegetation, along with having an effective plan to prevent fire ignition during high winds.
Hawaiian Electric is criticized in the lawsuit for allegedly being aware of the risks associated with high winds and downed power lines, which could trigger rapid-spreading fires. However, the utility expressed disappointment in the county’s decision to sue while investigations are ongoing.
Hawaiian Electric, a publicly traded utility serving the majority of Hawaii’s electricity customers, is already facing multiple lawsuits, including from Lahaina residents and its investors who claim the utility’s wildfire prevention measures were inadequate and that it failed to disclose vital information.
“Maui County’s lawsuit underscores the existence of safety procedures in other utility companies, such as Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric, suggesting that Hawaiian Electric could have adopted similar measures to prevent the catastrophe”.
“The combination of drought, strong winds, and blocked roads exacerbated the fires’ impact. A drought had rendered vegetation extremely dry, and powerful winds from Hurricane Dora knocked down numerous power poles. Despite firefighters initially containing the fires, the lack of road access and a delayed activation of the warning network led to further devastation”.
“As recovery efforts continue, search teams are scouring both water and land for any signs of those affected by the disaster. The aftermath of the fires has left a trail of destruction, as businesses and residential structures have been reduced to ashes”.