HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaiian Electric has provided an update on its investigation of the wildfires on Maui.
The company says a fire that broke out in Lahaina on the morning of Aug. 8 does appear to have been caused by power lines that fell in high winds. It adds that, “The Maui County Fire Department responded to this fire, reported it was 100% contained, left the scene and later declared it had been extinguished.”
The company says there was no electricity flowing through the wires in Lahaina or anywhere else on the West Maui coast by the time that the second fire broke out that afternoon. The statement says, “All of Hawaiian Electric’s power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours.”
Hawaiian Electric is facing several lawsuits, including one from Maui County.
The company says the lawsuit “distracts from the important work that needs to be done for the people of Lahaina and Maui.”
KHON2 reached out to the county and their attorneys for response, and we received this statement from John Fiske with the Baron & Budd law firm representing the County of Maui: ““To the extent HECO has information of a second ignition source, HECO should offer that evidence now. 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.”
An attorney who has filed a class action lawsuit against HECO and Maui County points out that HECO made a statement earlier saying it had to keep the power on so the county can run its water pumps to put out the fire. We later learned that some of those pumps had generators.
“So HECO has been making statements that have turned out not to be accurate. And again, this seems to be simply a distraction on their part,” said Terry Revere.
Revere adds that both HECO and Maui County should have taken more precautions years ago because they were warned that this type of tragedy can happen.
Hawaiian Electric’s full statement is below:
Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc. (“Hawaiian Electric”), a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc. (NYSE: HE) (“HEI”), today issued the following update in response to the lawsuit filed on Thursday by the County of Maui.
“Our hearts and hands are with the people of Lahaina and Maui,” said Shelee Kimura, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric. “Hawaiʻi has thrived on the collective strength and unity of our community, and we need to embrace that spirit now more than ever. There are important lessons to be learned from this tragedy by all of us collectively, and we are resolved to figure out what we need to do to keep our communities safe as climate issues rapidly intensify here and around the globe. We invite others to do the same with us.”
Several important facts are clear about the events on Aug. 8:
- A fire at 6:30 a.m. (the “Morning Fire”) appears to have been caused by power lines that fell in high winds.
- The Maui County Fire Department responded to this fire, reported it was “100% contained,” left the scene and later declared it had been “extinguished
- At about 3 p.m., a time when all of Hawaiian Electric’s power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours, a second fire (the “Afternoon Fire”) began in the same area.
- The cause of the devastating Afternoon Fire has not been determined.
“We were surprised and disappointed that the County of Maui rushed to court even before completing its own investigation,” Kimura said. “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 Hawaiʻi’s future. We continue to stand ready to work to that end with our communities and others. Unfortunately, the county’s lawsuit may leave us no choice in the legal system but to show its responsibility for what happened that day.”
Outlined below are additional details:
- The records conclusively establish that Hawaiian Electric power lines to Lahaina were not energized when the Afternoon Fire broke out shortly before 3 p.m. on Aug. 8, in a field near Lahaina Intermediate School. Power had been out for more than six hours by that time. There was no electricity flowing through the wires in the area or anywhere else on the West Maui coast. Hawaiian Electric has informed ATF investigators of the availability of records that demonstrate these facts.
- The small Morning Fire, seen in videos taken by local residents, began more than eight hours earlier. Those videos show that power lines had fallen to the ground in high winds near the intersection of Lahainaluna Road and Hoʻokahua Street at approximately 6:30 a.m. A small fire that can be seen by the downed lines spread into the field across the street from the Intermediate School.
- The Maui County Fire Department responded promptly to the Morning Fire. According to the Department’s public statement that morning, by 9 a.m. the Morning Fire was “100% contained.” The Maui County fire chief subsequently reported that the Fire Department had determined that the Morning Fire was “extinguished,” and the Fire Department left the scene by 2 p.m.
- Once the fire was out, Hawaiian Electric emergency crews arrived at Lahainaluna Road in the afternoon of Aug. 8 to make repairs; they saw no fire or smoke or embers. All lines to Lahaina remained de-energized and all power in the area remained off.
- Shortly before 3 p.m., while the power remained off, our crew members saw a small fire about 75 yards away from Lahainaluna Road in the field near the Intermediate School. They immediately called 911 and reported that fire.
- By the time the Maui County Fire Department arrived back on the scene, it was not able to contain the Afternoon Fire and it spread out of control toward Lahaina.
“The county’s lawsuit distracts from the important work that needs to be done for the people of Lahaina and Maui,” said Scott Seu, president and CEO of HEI. “Since the devastating fire in Lahaina, Hawaiian Electric’s focus has been supporting all of those who have been impacted and helping Maui recover. HEI stands with Hawaiian Electric and the community in rebuilding Lahaina and empowering a thriving future for Maui and the other islands we serve.”