Maui County has filed a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric Company, claiming that the utility's failure to shut off power during high winds and dry conditions led to the deadly wildfires that devastated the town of Lahaina. Witnesses and video footage suggest that sparks from power lines ignited fires as utility poles broke in the strong winds driven by a passing hurricane. The lawsuit argues that if the utility had heeded weather service warnings and de-energized their power lines, the destruction could have been avoided. Hawaiian Electric has not yet responded to the lawsuit.
The fires, which occurred on August 8, resulted in the death of at least 115 people, with an unknown number still missing. Many Lahaina wildfire survivors claim they had no official warning before the blaze occurred. Questions are being raised about the emergency response to the wildfires as the death toll continues to rise.
According to the lawsuit, Hawaiian Electric had a responsibility to properly maintain and repair the electric transmission lines, utility poles, and other equipment associated with transmitting electricity. The utility was also expected to keep vegetation trimmed and maintained to prevent contact with overhead power lines and other electric equipment. The lawsuit alleges that the utility was aware that high winds could knock down power poles, ignite vegetation, and spread fires rapidly.
The lawsuit highlights that other utilities, including Southern California Edison Company, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric, have implemented Public Safety Power Shutoffs during high wind events. The lawsuit argues that if Hawaiian Electric had a similar shutoff plan, the severe losses and catastrophic damage caused by the wildfires could have been prevented.
The outcome of the lawsuit remains uncertain, and Hawaiian Electric has not yet provided a comment on the matter. As investigations into the cause of the wildfires continue, the focus will be on determining whether the utility could have taken preventive measures to avoid the devastation.