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Hawaiian Electric Denies Creating Lahaina Fire

Hawaiian Electric Denies Creating Lahaina Fire

By RZR News Team
Sep 12, 2023

Fast Facts

Analysis

The wildfires of Maui may not have been so wild. Maui County filed a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) accusing the company of negligent failure to shut off power which caused the Lahaina fires. This accusation is extremely profound since the Lahaina fires ravaged a beautiful historical community which left the community likened to “war scenes,” with 388 missing persons and 115 deaths.

Upon a shallow delve into the lawsuit, there appears to be something off about the upcoming legal battle. First, it is questionable as to why Maui County would open a lawsuit prior to the closure of its investigation into HECO. Now there are many reasons why a lawsuit may be launched prior to the closure of an investigation, but the following reasons may be applicable to the Maui v. HECO case: preservation of evidence, pressure for the defendant to take action, public relations and reputation management, forcing disclosure upon the defendant and overall legal strategy. It leaves us wondering: What does Maui County already know? Is this lawsuit a PR stunt or is there sufficient evidence against HECO?

However, HECO has stated that Maui County’s accusations are “factually and legally irresponsible” and claimed that their West Mauian power lines had been de-energized for more than six hours prior to the start of the second fire. HECO also claims that the Maui County Fire Department is responsible for their lack of fire containment. Maui County cites several reasons that HECO’s poles and power lines have been outdated, and they have failed to use standard protection against natural elements that Hawaii often faces. Maui County claims that HECO’s negligence started the first fire, which then – led to further disaster. Unfortunately, there is little to research and report further until the investigation and lawsuit are closed and more evidence is made public. However, speculation that the wildfires were not in fact wild has been brewing; this lawsuit in some way brings those speculations into reality. 

For example, HECO is not the only entity being given scrutiny and blame; Herman Andaya was the former administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency. He recently resigned after his decision to not sound the emergency sirens across West Maui on the day of the fires. His reasoning is that he feared citizens would run inland which would have caused them to face the fires head-on. Herman could also be prosecuted by the county, but he currently faces no lawsuits. 

Even if the fires started naturally, this is sufficient circulating speculation that supports the public’s right to question if these fires were truly wild. Nonetheless, there has certainly been negligence from leadership in their management of citizens during the fire. As much as we hope the truth about the fires is revealed in a timely manner, we cannot forget the dead and missing of this devastating disaster to our beautiful Maui. From RZR, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Lahaina Community.

– SG

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Hawaiian Electric Company is an electric service company that serves 95 percent of Hawaii’s 1.4 million residents on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, Lanai and Molokai. On Sunday night the electric company pushed back against claims that its power lines started the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century that killed over 100 residents. Maui County sued Hawaiian Electric, accusing the utility of negligently failing to shut off power and causing the devastating fires that destroyed the town and the company claims that it was the de-energized power lines in the area at the time the blaze started.

The wildfires in Lahaina are a result of human and natural conditions. A lot of sugar plantations, pineapple farms and ranches shuttered, flammable grasses grew densely in the unintended land and climate change has caused drier and hot windy conditions, making the invasive grasslands more prone to burning. The best way for utilities to respond in the face of wildfires is to cut power because power lines themselves can worsen and create more fires and strong winds can knock power lines down which can also cause new and perpetuated wildfires. 

HECO has taken responsibility for the earlier two fires in Lahaina but claims the town was gutted by a different fire which started later in the afternoon and could not be contained by the county’s fire department. It’s the afternoon fire that caused the disaster in this location and the company states that at 3 p.m., when the second fire started in Lahaina, power lines had been de-energized for about six hours and that its crew members witnessed the wildfire start 75 yards from Lahainaluna Road in a field near an intermediate school. While the utility claims its lines were de-energized, the Maui police department said its barricades were up because of energized lines on the road. HECO crews called 911 and said that by the time the firefighters arrived, it was unable to contain the fire and had spread out of control. The city attorney discussed the case with Maui County’s managing director, Kekukuapio Akana, and he decided for the county to file a lawsuit, the Lahaina wildfire is still under investigation and the company is defending itself as investors fear possible bankruptcy.

The lawsuit alleges that the company failed to properly shut off the power despite a warning issued by the National Weather Services and for not putting a system in place to automatically shut off power lines in the event of wildfires like California and Oregon. The ultimate responsibility rests with HECO to keep up its equipment and make sure lines are not active when they’re or could’ve been down. Residents are devastated and are driven by grief to jump on a bandwagon and take action against the electric company because there’s a need to place blame. On the other hand, the utility company says there was no electricity flowing anywhere on the West Maui coast when the fire that burned Lahaina ignited, it has records of those findings, and that a small fire the lines may have started was declared fully contained by the fire department. The crew was doing repair work when it saw the fire ignite in that same spot.

If there is no evidence of what caused the wildfire, then perhaps HECO can be held liable. The company didn’t mention what may have started the fire or whether any other workers were in the area if the lines were intentionally not energized or off because of ongoing power line repairs and the fire department’s response does not absolve the company of liability. It is a wonder how a company taking responsibility for the first wildfire but not the second by simply stating how far away it started and not naming a source will hold in court. Many of the utility’s mostly wooden power poles, which are documented to be built to a 1960s standard, were near the end of their projected lifespan and not even near a 2002 national standard that key components of Hawaii’s electrical grid can withstand 105 mph winds. Even if a court ruling doesn’t place blame solely on the company, there is a strong chance it will have to bear some of the cost and liability. There might be a settlement offered before the court which may take months to go through.

– Briauna B

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It seems like there is a lot of finger-pointing between who started the fires in Maui which have left 115 dead and 388 people missing.  According to the County of Maui, Hawaiian Electric failed to de-energize the power lines after the first fire. On the other hand, Hawaiian Electric, also known as HECO, thinks that those claims are fallacious.

While both parties are saying two different things, it does not definitively mean that one of them is lying. At the same time, the possibility is not out of the picture. One would hope that the lawsuits filed against HECO do not get so much attention that they trivialize the true tragedy of the fires which was the loss of human life.

Right now it is hard to tell who is at fault. Hopefully, as the days go by, the truth will be revealed and whoever is responsible will take accountability for their actions and try their best to atone. For now, it is just a game of one word against the other. These fires just created a sad situation all around. Hundreds of people are dead and missing, there are billions of dollars in damages, and once all the legality and business aspects of the fires are over, the question remains: What now?

People have to rebuild and grieve the loss of their loved ones. Some people lost everything and their lives will probably never be the same again. It seems so sad for one to feel like their life is complete, then suddenly it all comes crashing down within a matter of days. With all that being said, whoever is responsible needs to simply own it.

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Billy Joel’s iconic song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” takes on a whole new meaning as the source of the recent Maui wildfires begins. As the brutal fires that tortured Hawaii finally become more contained and people begin the painful journey of rebuilding their lives from scratch, the question remains of who or what started the fire.

At this writing, there is speculation that Hawaiian Electric’s power lines were responsible for starting the fires. Interestingly Hawaiian Electric blamed Maui firefighters for not responding to the crisis in a timely manner. But who’s pointing fingers right?

Nevertheless, Maui County is bringing a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric. Hawaiian Electricsays its power lines were turned off hours before the wildfires started, which if true, provides plausible deniability to any liability claims. 

However, any good prosecuting attorney would raise these questions: What time were the power lines turned off, and why were they turned off when they were? Here is what Hawaiian Electric has said so far on the subject. 

Hawaiian Electric admits responsibility for the first of the two fires in Lahaina but says its power lines were turned off six hours before the second one, and this is where the Electric company points to the fire department. It is worth noting this is fairly speculative and does not really reach the heart of the issue. 

115 people died in the Maui wildfires, and countless more were injured or lost their homes. How will they be compensated? Instead of playing the blame game, why is nobody stepping up to take responsibility and help these poor people in their hour of need?

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