There has been a lot of speculation about the cause of the Maui fire, which has been called the worst wildfire in a century, with at least 115 dead and more than 1,000 still missing, including many children.
Democratic Gov. Josh Green immediately blamed global warming and then subsequently said climate change played a role.
However, there were witness accounts and videos that show the likely cause was fallen electrical lines and poles that ignited dry grass. Multiple lawsuits have already been filed against Hawaiian Electric. The company allegedly knew that there was a risk from fires for years but then didn’t remediate the issues while they were undertaking a “state-mandated shift to renewable energy.”
Other things allegedly contributed to making things worse, including not providing water in a timely matter and Hawaiian Electric trucks impeding people trying to escape out of the area by partially blocking the road.
Now Maui County has filed a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric. They are claiming that the company was negligent in failing to shut off the power when faced with the wind, dry conditions, and the power lines/poles being blown down. They claim the company disregarded weather warnings.
⚠️ UPDATE: High Wind & Fire Weather Alerts ⚠️
🌬️ High Wind: 30-45 mph winds, gusts up to 60 mph. Secure property, expect outages & difficult travel.
🔥 Red Flag: High fire danger with rapid spread. NO outdoor burning.
— NWSHonolulu (@NWSHonolulu) August 8, 2023
The lawsuit said the utility had a duty “to properly maintain and repair the electric transmission lines, and other equipment including utility poles associated with their transmission of electricity, and to keep vegetation properly trimmed and maintained so as to prevent contact with overhead power lines and other electric equipment.”
The utility knew that high winds “would topple power poles, knock down power lines, and ignite vegetation,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants also knew that if their overhead electrical equipment ignited a fire, it would spread at a critically rapid rate.”
The suit pointed to the fact that it had been the practice of other companies in similar conditions to cut the power. The early estimates were that it might cost more than $5 billion to rebuild Lahaina.
Now there’s also a troubling report that Hawaiian Electric may have removed evidence from the scene.
Records obtained by the Washington Post show that the utility company hauled away fallen poles, power lines, transformers, conductors and other equipment from the area surrounding the Lahaina substation starting on Aug. 12 — days before Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents arrived on sight.
In doing so, the power company may have violated national guidelines on how utilities should handle and preserve evidence after a wildfire and compromised the probe into the cause of the inferno that killed at least 115 people.
“If a lot of equipment is already moved or gone by the time the investigators show up, that’s problematic because you want to observe where the equipment was relative to the ignition site,” Michael Wara, who directs the Climate and Energy Policy program at Stanford University, told the Post.
This was even after they had been requested to preserve evidence starting on Aug. 10 in one of the many lawsuits.
But in a statement, Hawaiian Electric spokesman Darren Pai said the company has been “in regular communication with ATF and local authorities and are operating with them as well as attorneys representing people affected by the wildfires, with inventories and access to the removed equipment, which we have carefully photographed, documented and stored.”
They said that while they were trying to preserve things, they also had to address safety.
“Hawaiian Electric will take reasonable steps to preserve evidence, but cannot make any guarantees due to the rapidly evolving situation on the ground, which is also not within our control,” the letter read, according to the Washington Post.
They also said they removed evidence because they don’t “own or control the land or public streets beneath its facilities.” I’m not sure how that justifies the removal.
If they did remove evidence that they should have kept in place, that could add to their troubles on top of the multiple lawsuits.