Hawaii wildfires: Electric company accused of compromising evidence

LAHAINA, Hawaii — A utility company in Hawaii has been accused of compromising evidence before federal investigators were able to examine it, according to court documents.

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Hawaiian Electric Company worked on the island to remove fallen poles, power lines, transformers, conductors and other equipment by a substation in Lahaina starting on Aug. 12, according to court documents obtained by The Washington Post. They reportedly did this before the officials from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrived.

By removing those items, they possibly violated national guidelines that are in place on how utility companies should handle and preserve evidence after a wildfire. By removing equipment including poles, it is taking away any changes or opportunities for investigators to see the lines downed while trying to determine how the fire started, according to court records obtained by the Post.

Hawaiian Electric Company, according to court records obtained by CNN, acknowledged that some vital evidence was compromised in an exchange with lawyers.

The company reportedly said that “fallen power poles, power lines and other equipment were moved during firefighting efforts and as officials worked to make the area safe for residents,” according to letters that are part of a class action lawsuit from residents of Lahaina, obtained by CNN.

The company told the attorneys of the Lahaina residents involved in the class action lawsuit that it was “possible, even likely” that evidence related “to the cause of the fire,” may be lost, according to CNN.

Hawaiian Electric spokesman Darren Pai said in a statement obtained by the Post that they are speaking with ATF and local officials regularly and that they are cooperating with them and attorneys representing those affected by the wildfires. Pai said they have provided inventories as well as access to removed equipment.

The cause of the wildfires in Lahaina remains under investigation but according to the Post, “there is mounting evidence that Hawaiian Electric’s wind-damaged equipment sent sparks into the dry, overgrown vegetation surrounding its poles.”

Maui County filed a lawsuit against the utility company earlier in the week alleging that Hawaiian Electric Co. “acted negligently by failing to power down their electrical equipment despite a National Weather Service Red Flag Warning on August 7,” according to KHON.

At least 115 people have died in the fires and hundreds of others remain missing.