Hawaiian Electric has reacted to the latest allegations that it was responsible for the deadly fires that swept Maui in the first half of this month. Hawaiian Electric said Sunday that its power lines were de-energized more than six hours prior to the fire which killed ed over 115 people .
The utility company has responded to the suit filed by Maui County against it on Thursday. This is its first full-throated denial of the claims that their equipment and downed lines were responsible for the deadly wildfires which devastated the historic Lahaina town. Authorities continue to search for charred cars and buildings after the August 8 fire.
Hawaiian Electric has denied that it did not turn off power during high winds and fires.
Hawaiian Electric said that two fires were reported on the fatal day of the inferno – the morning fire, and the one found by Hawaiian Electric employees in the afternoon. The company admits that the first fire was probably caused by power lines. However, it says the cause of the second “has not yet been determined.”
Hawaiian Electric said that the first fire started around 6:30 am. The Maui County Fire Department responded, and reported later that the fire had been “100% contained.” They left the scene at 2 pm when it was deemed “extinguished.”
It was then that the company’s workers identified a second, smaller fire in the same area at around 3 p.m. — “about 75 yard away from Lahainaluna Road” in a field near Lahaina Intermediate School. This occurred “at a time when Hawaiian Electric had de-energized all its power lines on West Maui for more than 6 hours”.
Hawaiian Electric, which has been criticized for its utility services due to at least 11 lawsuits that have sprung up in the aftermath of the fire.
The statement issued Sunday was in response to a suit filed on Thursday by Maui County.
We believe that the complaint is legally and factually irresponsible. Shelee Kimura is the Hawaiian Electric CEO and president. She said that it was inconsistent with our vision of a resilient and responsible community, committed to each other and Hawaii’s future. “We remain ready to work towards that end, with our communities and other parties.”
Maui County’s suit alleges Hawaiian Electric was negligent for failing to maintain its power grid or shut down equipment despite weather conditions and warnings from the National Weather Service. The lawsuit claims that “energized and fallen power lines ignited dried fuel such as brush and grass and caused the fires.”
Kimura stated in her statement that “the county’s lawsuit could leave us with no choice but to show their responsibility for what happened on that day” in the legal system.
Hawaiian Electric’s representatives did not respond immediately when asked for clarification of Kimura’s statement or timeline.
John Fiske, a Maui County attorney, said that Hawaiian Electric should provide evidence of the second ignition source if it has any. HECO has the ultimate responsibility to de-energize and maintain its systems and equipment.
Maui County Fire Department was not immediately available for comment.
Mikal Watts is an attorney who filed a suit against Hawaiian Electric earlier this month. The lawsuit detailed years of negligence and claimed the utility company failed to respond responsibly to weather conditions.
Watts stated that he didn’t believe the dispute between Hawaiian Electric Maui County had any bearing on “the one core and relevant truth – Hawaiian Electric’s original equipment ignited the fire which eventually incinerated Lahaina and left thousands of dead, injured, or homeless.”
Hawaiian Electric’s share price suffered a blow after the wildfire, but it recovered following the company statement. Hawaiian Electric’s share price rose from $9.66 on Friday to $13.86 in the morning. Prior to the fire, it had traded at 37.36.