In a recent statement, Hawaiian Electric Company acknowledged that its power lines were responsible for starting a wildfire on Maui. However, the utility also shifted blame to county firefighters for declaring the blaze contained and leaving the scene, only to have a second, more deadly wildfire break out nearby. The second fire killed at least 115 people and destroyed 2,000 structures, making it the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in over a century.
Hawaiian Electric disputed a lawsuit filed by Maui County, which accused the utility of failing to shut off power despite high winds and dry conditions. The company called the complaint "factually and legally irresponsible" and stated that its power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours when the second fire started.
While the utility acknowledged that the first fire was likely caused by power lines falling in high winds, it seemed to place most of the blame for the devastation on Maui County. The utility claimed that the fire reignited in the afternoon and tore through downtown Lahaina due to the county's actions.
Videos and images analyzed by the Associated Press confirmed that the wires responsible for the morning fire were among miles of line left exposed to the weather and foliage by the utility. This is despite efforts by utilities in other wildfire-prone areas to cover up or bury their lines. Additionally, many of the utility's power poles were leaning and near the end of their lifespan, not meeting the national standard for withstanding high winds.
Hawaiian Electric's response to the tragedy emphasized the need to learn from the incident and take steps to keep communities safe as climate issues intensify. The utility now faces several lawsuits seeking to hold it accountable.
It is important to note that both the utility and Maui County have not yet responded to requests for comment on Hawaiian Electric's statement. The focus now turns to the investigation and lessons that can be learned from this preventable tragedy.