U.S.

New evidence points to power lines as cause of catastrophic Maui fires

Class-action lawsuits blame Hawaiian Electric for keeping the power on amid high wind warnings as dozens of people reported downed power lines.

New evidence points to power lines as cause of catastrophic Maui fires
Alan Dickar / AP
SMS

An early morning video from a Lahaina resident may have captured the start of what would become the deadliest wildfire the U.S. has seen in a century. 

While officials haven’t yet declared what started the roaring fires that killed more than 100 people and counting, a pair of class-action lawsuits against Hawaiian Electric, the state's primary electric provider, claim high winds blew down power lines, igniting the inferno.

Lahaina resident Shane Treu may have captured key evidence with his cell phone camera the morning of the fire, saying he saw howling winds snap a wooden pole and spark the dry grass below. 

"The wind was so crazy. If it was blowing the roof off of my house, honestly, I wouldn't blame them," said Treu. 

The class-action suits blame Hawaiian Electric for keeping the power on amid high wind warnings as dozens of people reported downed power lines.  

Maui fires are another disaster in which warning sirens stayed silent
Maui fires are another disaster in which warning sirens stayed silent

Maui fires are another disaster in which warning sirens stayed silent

No one activated Hawaii’s extensive network of outdoor emergency alarms, a spokesman for the state's Emergency Management Agency tells Scripps News.

LEARN MORE

While high winds and dry conditions have been blamed for the inferno, there’s mounting evidence that Hawaii’s utility equipment holds at least some responsibility not only for the Lahaina fire, but others that sparked elsewhere in Maui around the same time. 

Citing the Washington Post, the lawsuit says documents from Hawaiian Electric show the company did not adopt a power shut-off plan, such as those used in California during wildfire season. California’s main utility company, PG&E, have increasingly used emergency power shut-offs since 2018 after investigators found the company’s transmission lines sparked the biggest and deadliest fire in California history. 

While Hawaiian Electric has not commented on the lawsuit, CEO Shelee Kimura said Monday the company needed to factor in the ability to keep emergency and health care services running. Hawaiian Electric is now investigating the locations where people reported fires starting. 

The company says it restored power to about 80% of residents who've been without electricity since last Tuesday.