The early morning of August 8 appears to have been the result of power lines toppling in strong winds, according to Hawaiian Electric Company, but more than six hours had passed before West Maui’s power lines were de-energized when a second fire broke out in the late afternoon in the Lahaina region.
The firm made the remarks in a fresh response to a lawsuit the County of Maui filed on Sunday.
The County of Maui said in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that HECO, an electric provider, “inexcusably kept their power lines energised” in early August despite the National Weather Service issuing a High Wind Watch and a Fire Warning.
The utility claims it has not yet identified the cause of the afternoon fire. Later on, that afternoon’s fire developed into the raging inferno that caused at least 115 fatalities and more than 2,000 structures to be damaged or completely destroyed.
In a news release, HECO mentioned videos demonstrating how, at around 6:30 am, strong winds caused electricity lines to fall to the ground close to the intersection of Lahainaluna Road and Hookahua Street. However, the Maui County Fire Department reported that the fire was completely out by 9am.
When Hawaiian Electric emergency employees arrived at Lahainaluna Road in the afternoon of August 8 to conduct repairs after the fire was put out, they didn’t notice any flames, smoke, or embers. All power in the region remained off, and all lines to Lahaina remained de-energized.
HECO said that shortly before 3 p.m., when the electricity was still down, its staff members noticed a minor fire in a field about 75 yards off Lahainaluna Road close to the Intermediate School. They reported the fire to 911 right away, according to the press statement.
The fire had already expanded out of control towards Lahaina by the time the Maui County Fire Department returned to the scene, according to the announcement.
John Fiske, the lawyer for the County of Maui in the lawsuit, said in a statement to CNN on Monday, “To the extent HECO has information of a second ignition source, HECO should offer that proof now. HECO is ultimately in charge of de-energizing, making ensuring its systems and equipment are well-maintained, and making sure downed power lines are not energised.
CNN contacted Fiske to get further details about why they think Hawaiian Electric has knowledge of a second ignition source, but they did not respond right away.
We were astonished and disturbed that the County of Maui hurried to court even before concluding its own inquiry, according to Shelee Kimura, president and CEO of HECO. We consider the complaint to be legally and factually reckless. It is incompatible with the course we think we should take as a strong community that is responsible to one another and the future of Hawaii. We remain prepared to collaborate with other people and our communities to achieve that goal. Unfortunately, the county’s action may force us to accept responsibility for what transpired that day in the court system.
Additionally, Kimura stated that everyone may benefit from the tragedy’s lessons, and that “we are resolved to figure out what we need to do to keep our communities safe as climate issues rapidly worsen here and around the world.” We invite others to join us in doing the same.