A high-stakes blame game is unfolding in Hawaii as Hawaiian Electric vehemently denies causing the recent fires that engulfed parts of Maui. The company released a comprehensive statement after Maui County officials accused it of failing to properly manage electrical equipment during a National Weather Service Red Flag Warning, leading to catastrophic fires.
On Monday, The Gateway Pundit reported that Maui officials had earlier put the blame squarely on Hawaiian Electric, citing downed power lines as the source of the fire that has now engulfed thousands of acres and led to evacuations across the island.
Maui County has officially filed a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) and its subsidiaries, claiming negligence on the part of the utility.
Maui County released the following statement regarding the lawsuit:
Today, the County of Maui filed a lawsuit against Maui Electric Company, Limited, Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Hawaiʻi Electric Light Company, Inc., and Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc. for civil damages caused to the County’s public property and resources caused by recent Maui fires, including fires in Lāhainā and in Kula. The lawsuit was filed in the Second Circuit Court and the case number is 2CCV-23-0000238.
The lawsuit alleges that the Defendants acted negligently by failing to power down their electrical equipment despite a National Weather Service Red Flag Warning on August 7th. The lawsuit further alleges HECO’s energized and downed power lines ignited dry fuel such as grass and brush, causing the fires. The lawsuit also alleges failure to maintain the system and power grid, which caused the systemic failures starting three different fires on August 8th.
Maui County stands alongside the people and communities of Lāhainā and Kula to recover public resource damages and rebuild after these devastating utility-caused fires. These damages include losses to public infrastructure, fire response costs, losses to revenues, increased costs, environmental damages, and losses of historical or cultural landmarks.
HECO is a for-profit, investor-owned utility that trades publicly on the New York Stock Exchange serving 95% of the Hawai’i customer base.
The fires in Lāhainā and Kula burned over 3,000 acres and destroyed more than 2,200 structures, causing an estimated $5.5 billion in damage or more.
The County is represented by Corporation Counsel Victoria J. Takayesu, Deputy Corporation Counsel Thomas Kolbe, and by outside counsel John Fiske of Baron & Budd, P.C., Ed Diab of Diab Chambers, LLP, and L. Richard Fried of Cronin, Fried, Sekiya, Kekina & Fairbanks. Baron & Budd and Diab Chambers have been selected by public entities 95 times to recover civil damages in wildfire cases.
In a detailed rebuttal, Shelee Kimura, President and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, said, “We were surprised and disappointed that the County of Maui rushed to court even before completing its own investigation. We believe the complaint is factually and legally irresponsible.”
“It is inconsistent with the path that we believe we should pursue as a resilient community committed and accountable to each other as well as to Hawaii’s future. We continue to stand ready to work to that end with our communities and others. Unfortunately, the county’s lawsuit may leave us no choice in the legal system but to show its responsibility for what happened that day,” Kimura added.
The company outlined key events, stating:
- A fire at 6:30 a.m. (the “Morning Fire”) appears to have been caused by power lines that fell in high winds.
- The Maui County Fire Department responded to this fire, reported it was “100% contained,” left the scene and later declared it had been “extinguished.”
- At about 3 p.m., a time when all of Hawaiian Electric’s power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours, a second fire (the “Afternoon Fire”) began in the same area.
- The cause of the devastating Afternoon Fire has not been determined.
Additional details are outlined below, according to the news release:
- The records conclusively establish that Hawaiian Electric power lines to Lahaina were not energized when the Afternoon Fire broke out shortly before 3 p.m. on Aug. 8, in a field near Lahaina Intermediate School. Power had been out for more than six hours by that time. There was no electricity flowing through the wires in the area or anywhere else on the West Maui coast. Hawaiian Electric has informed ATF investigators of the availability of records that demonstrate these facts.
- The small Morning Fire, seen in videos taken by local residents, began more than eight hours earlier. Those videos show that power lines had fallen to the ground in high winds near the intersection of Lahainaluna Road and Hookahua Street at approximately 6:30 a.m. A small fire that can be seen by the downed lines spread into the field across the street from the Intermediate School.
- The Maui County Fire Department responded promptly to the Morning Fire. According to the Department’s public statement that morning, by 9 a.m. the Morning Fire was “100% contained.” The Maui County fire chief subsequently reported that the Fire Department had determined that the Morning Fire was “extinguished,” and the Fire Department left the scene by 2 p.m.
- Once the fire was out, Hawaiian Electric emergency crews arrived at Lahainaluna Road in the afternoon of Aug. 8 to make repairs; they saw no fire or smoke or embers. All lines to Lahaina remained de-energized and all power in the area remained off.
- Shortly before 3 p.m., while the power remained off, our crew members saw a small fire about 75 yards away from Lahainaluna Road in the field near the Intermediate School. They immediately called 911 and reported that fire.
- By the time the Maui County Fire Department arrived back on the scene, it was not able to contain the Afternoon Fire and it spread out of control toward Lahaina.
“The county’s lawsuit distracts from the important work that needs to be done for the people of Lahaina and Maui,” said Scott Seu, president and CEO of HEI.
“Since the devastating fire in Lahaina, Hawaiian Electric’s focus has been supporting all of those who have been impacted and helping Maui recover. HEI stands with Hawaiian Electric and the community in rebuilding Lahaina and empowering a thriving future for Maui and the other islands we serve,” Seu added.
The company’s statement also included a section on “forward-looking statements,” emphasizing that future projections are subject to risks, uncertainties, and the accuracy of assumptions concerning HEI, Hawaiian Electric, and their subsidiaries.
As this battle of words and lawsuits continues, Maui residents are left wondering who is truly at fault as they grapple with the aftermath of the devastating fires. Investigations are ongoing, and both parties remain under scrutiny as they attempt to control the narrative around this calamity.
The Gateway Pundit previously reported that a leaked letter revealed that Maui County Officials have instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to immediately halt posting images and videos related to the recent Maui wildfire disaster.
The email reads:
Out of respect for those who perished, we were asked by Maui County officials to pause on posting on social media and elsewhere new imagery of damage/disaster/debris starting now. They are asking for a full stop on disaster imagery going forward. At this time, we have not been asked to take any photos or video down. Our team on the ground is coordinating with the County for further guidance to ensure we remain fully aligned. Cultural sensitivity is of the utmost importance in all our response and recovery activities to this disaster.