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Maui County files lawsuit against Maui Electric Company, Hawaiian Electric Company following wildfires

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(LAHAINA, Hawaii) — Maui County says it has filed a lawsuit against local electric companies over damage caused by the devastating Maui wildfires, including ones in Lahaina and Kula.

The lawsuit alleges that Maui Electric Company, Limited, Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Hawaiʻi Electric Light Company, Inc., and Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc. acted negligently by failing to power down their electrical equipment despite a National Weather Service red flag warning on Aug. 7.

The deadly wildfires that erupted on the Hawaiian island of Maui on Aug. 8 killed more than 100 people, burned thousands of acres and destroyed more than 2,000 structures.

The lawsuit alleges that the downed, energized power lines “ignited dry fuel such as grass and brush, causing the fires.”

At a press conference on Aug. 15, a representative for Hawaiian Electric said an investigation is underway as to what happened. When pressed about why power lines were not deenergized during powerful winds, the representative said that, unlike California, the state does not have a shut-off program, saying they are “controversial” and not universally accepted, and adding they create a hardship for the vulnerable and people with medical needs. She also pointed out that electricity powers the pumps that provide water to fight the fire.

An official cause of the fire has not been determined.

More than 1,000 people remain unaccounted for, according to officials.

“Maui County stands alongside the people and communities of Lahaina and Kula to recover public resource damages and rebuild after these devastating utility-caused fires,” Maui County said in a press release.

It continued, “These damages include losses to public infrastructure, fire response costs, losses to revenues, increased costs, environmental damages, and losses of historical or cultural landmarks.”

A class-action lawsuit was also filed last Saturday against Hawaiian Electric that alleges that the company “inexcusably kept their power lines energized” despite forecasts of high winds that could topple power lines and potentially ignite a fast-spreading blaze.

Jim Kelly, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Electric Industries, said at the time of that lawsuit: “As has always been our policy, we don’t comment on pending litigation. Our immediate focus is on supporting emergency response efforts on Maui and restoring power for our customers and communities as quickly as possible. At this early stage, the cause of the fire has not been determined and we will work with the state and county as they conduct their review.”

Hawaiian Electric provides power for 95% of Hawaii residents, according to the company’s website.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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