Hawaiian Electric is said to have failed to shut off power despite the recent drought and strong winds.

Maui County has sued Hawaiian Electric over the fires that ravaged Lahaina, alleging the utility negligently failed to turn off power despite exceptionally high winds and dry conditions.

The county filed the lawsuit Thursday after it said fallen power lines started the wildfires that devastated the historic town of Lahaina earlier in the month, killing at least 115 people and displacing hundreds more.

Witness accounts and video from the wildfires indicated that sparks from power lines ignited fires as utility poles snapped in winds driven by a passing hurricane.

The subsequent fires that ravaged the area on August 8 were the deadliest in the United States in more than a century.

The lawsuit alleges that the utility could have prevented the destruction

The lawsuit states that the destruction could have been avoided and that the utility had a duty to “properly maintain and repair power transmission lines and other equipment, including power poles, associated with power transmission, and to properly trim vegetation.” prune and groom to ensure this.” to prevent contact with overhead power lines and other electrical equipment.”

The utility knew that high winds “would topple utility poles, destroy power lines and ignite vegetation,” the lawsuit states. “The defendants also knew that if their electrical catenary system were to ignite a fire, a fire would spread at a critical rate.”

Utilities ‘disappointed’, county chose ‘contentious path’

Hawaiin Electric said in a statement it was “very disappointed that Maui County has chosen this contentious path while the investigation is ongoing.”

Hawaiian Electric is an investor-owned, for-profit, publicly traded electric utility serving 95 percent of Hawaii’s electric customers.

The company is also facing multiple lawsuits from Lahaina residents, as well as a lawsuit from some of its own investors, who accused it of fraud in a federal lawsuit Thursday, saying it failed to disclose that its wildfire prevention and safety measures were inadequate.

Maui County’s lawsuit notes that other utilities, such as Southern California Edison Company, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric, have procedures in place to shut down power during severe storms and that “the severe and catastrophic losses … could easily have been prevented.” can become”. if Hawaiian Electric had a similar shutdown schedule.

“Our primary focus following this unimaginable tragedy has been to do whatever we can to support not only the people of Maui but also the County of Maui,” Hawaiian Electric said in a statement.

Davilynn Severson and Hano Ganer search for belongings in the ashes of their family home after a wildfire in Lahaina, western Maui, Hawaii, on August 11, 2023 [Patrick T Fallon/AFP]

A deadly combination: drought, winds and blocked roads

A drought in the region had left crops, including invasive grasses, dangerously dry. As Hurricane Dora passed about 500 miles south of Hawaii, high winds downed at least 30 utility poles in West Maui.

Video captured by a Lahaina resident shows a fallen power line setting dry grass on fire.

Firefighters initially contained the fire, but then went on their way to devote themselves to other operations. Local residents said the fire later reignited and raced toward downtown Lahaina.

Traffic along Front Street in Lahaina came to a standstill as power lines went out and police or utilities blocked some streets.

The island-wide warning network also failed to activate, a decision that is believed to have cost lives and recently led to the resignation of the head of Maui’s civil protection agency.

Many residents dove off Maui as they tried to escape the flaming debris and superheated black smoke that blanketed downtown Lahaina.

Dozens of searchers in snorkel gear searched a 4-mile (6.4 km) stretch of water this week for signs that someone may have died. Even in the ashes of destroyed shops and multi-storey residential buildings, the emergency services are still laboriously searching for remains.

Source : www.aljazeera.com

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