WILDFIRE

Hawaiian Electric says power lines started morning fire on Aug. 8

Aug 29, 2023, 6:00 AM

Linemen work on poles in Lahaina, Hawaii, following a deadly wildfire, on August 13. Hawaiian Elect...

Linemen work on poles in Lahaina, Hawaii, following a deadly wildfire, on August 13. Hawaiian Electric Company said that power lines falling in high winds seem to have caused a fire during the early morning of August 8, but power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours by the time a second afternoon fire began in the Lahaina area. Photo credit: Rick Bowmer/AP

(CNN) — Hawaiian Electric Company said that power lines falling in high winds seem to have caused a fire during the early morning of Aug. 8, but power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours by the time a second afternoon fire began in the Lahaina area.

The company made the comments in a new response Sunday to a lawsuit filed by the County of Maui.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, the County of Maui alleged the electric company, known as HECO, “inexcusably kept their power lines energized” in early August, despite the fact that the National Weather Service issued a High Wind Watch and a Fire Warning.

The utility states the cause of that afternoon fire has not yet been determined. That afternoon fire ultimately grew into the inferno that killed at least 115 people and damaged or destroyed more than 2,000 structures.

In a press release, HECO mentioned videos showing that power lines had fallen to the ground in high winds near the intersection of Lahainaluna Road and Hookahua Street at approximately 6:30am. But that morning fire was declared 100% contained by the Maui County Fire Department by 9am, they said.

The press release from HECO then explains: “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, HECO said its 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, the release says.

By the time the Maui County Fire Department arrived back on the scene, it was not able to contain that fire, and it spread out of control toward Lahaina, the release says.

In a statement to CNN Monday, John Fiske the attorney representing the County of Maui in the lawsuit said, “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.”

CNN asked Fiske for clarity on why they believe Hawaiian Electric has information on a second ignition source but did not immediately hear back.

Shelee Kimura, president and CEO of HECO, said, “We were surprised and disappointed that the County of Maui rushed to court even before completing its own investigation. 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 Hawaii’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.”

Kimura also said that there are important lessons to be learned from this tragedy by all, 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.”

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Hawaiian Electric says power lines started morning fire on Aug. 8