Maui Electric responds to lawsuit, claims power lines were de-energized after Aug. 8 fire


(LAHAINA, Hawaii) — Maui Electric confirmed Monday that downed power lines were the cause behind a morning fire near Lahaina on Aug. 8, however the company maintains they had shut off the power before another fire began in the same area and later engulfed the island.

The utility responded to the lawsuit filed last week by Maui County against it and other electric companies that alleged it was negligent during the lead-up to the fires and ignored warnings of high winds and other potential fire warnings from weather officials.

Shelee Kimura, the president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, said in a statement that the allegations in the lawsuit were “factually and legally irresponsible.” She claimed the company’s investigation showed it responded to both fires promptly.

The utility released a timeline of what it claimed happened that day and has said that it has provided data to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is investigating the cause of the deadly wildfires.

Around 6:30 a.m. HT, on Aug. 8, Maui Electric said that high winds toppled a power line that caused a fire near Lahainaluna High School.

Residents who lived near where the fire started filmed the blaze and told ABC News that firefighters arrived minutes later.

Maui Electric said the fire department fought the fire and said firefighters reported it was “100% contained” by 9 a.m. It was around this time that the utility claimed it had shut off power.

“There was no electricity flowing through the wires in the area or anywhere else on the West Maui coast,” Maui Electric said in a statement.

Around 2 p.m., the fire department left the scene after it declared the blaze extinguished, according to the utility.

Maui Electric said it sent emergency crews to conduct repairs and claimed the power lines were still de-energized, and the power remained off.

At first, the utility’s emergency crews didn’t see any smoke or fire embers, however, around 3 p.m., the crews spotted another fire 75 yards away near another school, according to Maui Electric.

The utility says crews called 911, and firefighters arrived, however, they were unable to control the blaze and it spread toward Lahaina.

Maui Fire and Maui County didn’t immediately return a request for comment to ABC News.

The wildfire has been the most deadly fire in American history, with over 115 people killed, at least 388 unaccounted for and massive damage to buildings, trees and infrastructure.

The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined and the ATF’s investigation is ongoing.

The Maui County lawsuit contends that the island utilities failed to act and make preparations after the National Weather Service issued its Aug. 7 red flag warning: “warm temperatures, very low humidities and stronger winds are expected to combine to produce an increased risk of fire danger.”

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

Kimura said the company was “surprised and disappointed that the County of Maui rushed to court even before completing its investigation.”

“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,” she said.

Hawaii Electric is also the subject of a class-action lawsuit by affected residents who allege the utility “inexcusably kept their power lines energized” despite forecasts of high winds that could topple power lines and potentially ignite a fast-spreading blaze.

The utility has declined to comment on that lawsuit.

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