Hawaiian Electric responds to lawsuit filed by County of Maui over Lahaina fire
August 28, 2023, 2:30 AM HST
Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc. (“Hawaiian Electric”), a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc., issued an update in response to the lawsuit filed by the County of Maui on Thursday.
“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.”
According to HECO’s timeline, the morning fire started at 6:30 a.m., and “appears to have been caused by power lines that fell in high winds.”
Videos taken by local residents, 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., according to HECO’s account. “A small fire that can be seen by the downed lines spread into the field across the street from the Intermediate School,” the company reports.
HECO reports, the Maui County Fire Department “responded promptly” to this fire, reported it was “100% contained,” by 9 a.m. Firefighters stayed on scene into the afternoon “with no activity,” according to a Maui Now interview with Chief Brad Ventura.
According to HECO, the department had declared the morning fire had been “extinguished” before the afternoon fire began.
Once the morning fire was out, Hawaiian Electric reports that 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,” according to HECO’s account.
The company outlined a list of factors related to the Aug. 8, 2023 events, saying that at around 3 p.m., “power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours” when a second fire in the afternoon began in the same area—in a field near Lahaina Intermediate School.
“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,” according to HECO’s report.
Hawaiian Electric reports that “there was no electricity flowing through the wires in the area or anywhere else on the West Maui coast,” and has informed ATF investigators of the availability of records that it says demonstrate their claims.
HECO notes that the cause of the devastating afternoon fire, has not been determined.
Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura had explained in an earlier interview with Maui Now that the department is still investigating whether the afternoon fire was the same fire, or a different one. He said, “It was within 30 minutes from when it went to the brush that our firefighters had called for evacuations of the Lahainaluna street area.”
HECO reports that, “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.”
“We were surprised and disappointed that the County of Maui rushed to court even before completing its own investigation,” Kimura said in a news release response.
The County of Maui lawsuit alleges that the electric companies acted negligently by failing to power down its electrical equipment despite a Red Flag Warning issued by the National Weather Service the previous day, on Aug. 7. The lawsuit also alleges “failure to maintain the system and power grid, which caused the systemic failures starting three different fires on Aug. 8.”
She called the complaint “factually and legally irresponsible,” saying, “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.”
Maui County’s lawsuit seeks to recover “public resource damages” including losses to public infrastructure, fire response costs, losses to revenues, increased costs, environmental damages and losses of historical or cultural landmarks.
The fires in Lahaina and Kula combined burned more than 3,000 acres and destroyed more than 2,200 structures. FEMA estimates that the cost to rebuild in Lahaina alone is projected at $5.52 billion.
“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 said in a news release. “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.”