September 23, 2023

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Gene Johnson | Related Press

HONOLULU — Maui County sued Hawaiian Electrical Firm on Thursday over the fires that devastated Lahaina, saying the utility negligently did not shut off energy regardless of exceptionally excessive winds and dry circumstances.

Witness accounts and video indicated that sparks from energy strains ignited fires as utility poles snapped within the winds, which have been pushed by a passing hurricane. The Aug. 8 fires killed a minimum of 115 folks and left an unknown variety of others lacking, making them the deadliest within the U.S. in additional than a century.

A spokesperson for Hawaiian Electrical didn’t instantly reply to an electronic mail searching for remark.

“This destruction may have been averted,” the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit stated the utility had an obligation “to correctly preserve and restore the electrical transmission strains, and different gear together with utility poles related to their transmission of electrical energy, and to maintain vegetation correctly trimmed and maintained in order to stop contact with overhead energy strains and different electrical gear.”

The utility knew that top winds “would topple energy poles, knock down energy strains, and ignite vegetation,” the lawsuit stated. “Defendants additionally knew that if their overhead electrical gear ignited a fireplace, it will unfold at a critically speedy price.”

A drought within the area had left crops, together with invasive grasses, dangerously dry. As Hurricane Dora handed roughly 500 miles south of Hawaii, robust winds toppled a minimum of 30 energy poles in West Maui. Video shot by a Lahaina resident reveals a downed energy line setting dry grasses alight. Firefighters initially contained that fireside, however then left to take care of different calls, and residents stated the fireplace later reignited and raced towards downtown Lahaina.

With downed energy strains, police or utility crews blocking some roads, visitors floor to a standstill alongside Lahaina’s Entrance Road. Quite a few residents jumped into the water off Maui as they tried to flee the flaming particles and overheated black smoke enveloping downtown.

Dozens of searchers in snorkel gear this week have been combing a 4-mile stretch of water for indicators of anybody who might need perished. Crews are additionally painstakingly trying to find stays among the many ashes of destroyed companies and multistory residential buildings.

For now, the variety of confirmed lifeless stands at 115, a quantity that the county stated is anticipated to rise. The FBI and Maui County police are nonetheless attempting to determine what number of others is likely to be unaccounted for. The FBI stated Tuesday there have been 1,000 to 1,100 names on a tentative, unconfirmed listing.

Hawaiian Electrical is a for-profit, investor-owned, publicly traded utility that serves 95% of Hawaii’s electrical prospects. Additionally it is dealing with a number of lawsuits from Lahaina residents in addition to one from a few of its personal traders, who accused it of fraud in a federal lawsuit Thursday, saying it did not disclose that its wildfire prevention and security measures have been insufficient.

Maui County’s lawsuit notes different utilities, equivalent to Southern California Edison Firm, Pacific Fuel & Electrical, and San Diego Fuel & Electrical, have procedures for shutting off energy throughout throughout unhealthy windstorms and stated the “extreme and catastrophic losses … may have simply been prevented” if Hawaiian Electrical had an identical shutoff plan.

The county stated it’s searching for compensation for injury to public property and assets in Lahaina in addition to close by Kula.