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Hawaii wildfires: Maui County sued Hawaiian Electric Co. for failing to shut off power

HONOLULU — Officials in Maui County have filed a lawsuit against a utility company on the Hawaiian island alleging that it was negligent over the wildfires.

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In a news release, Maui County alleges in the lawsuit 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.

Maui County alleges that Hawaii Electric Co. failed to shut off power even with high winds and the increased dry conditions, The Associated Press reported.

The lawsuit claims that if the utility company shut off the power, the destruction could have been prevented. It also says the company had a duty “to properly maintain and repair the electric transmission lines, and other equipment including utility poles associated with their transmission of electricity, and to keep vegetation properly trimmed and maintained so as to prevent contact with overhead power lines and other electric equipment,” according to the AP.

The lawsuit claims that the company was aware of the high winds and did not act. Other utility companies including Southern California Edison Company, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric have a plan in place that when high winds are taking place, they shut off power to prevent “severe and catastrophic losses,” the AP reported. That could have happened if Hawaiian Electric had a similar plan in place.

Witnesses as well as videos showed that sparks from power lines started the fires after high winds from a hurricane passed through the area, according to the AP.

The lawsuit is looking for civil damages for the loss of public property, public infrastructure, fire response costs, losses to revenues, environmental damage and loss of historical and cultural landmarks due to the fires, KHON reported.

The AP said they reached out to a spokesperson with Hawaiian Electric Co. but did not receive a response.

As a result of the devastating fires, at least 115 people were killed and damage is an estimated $5.5 billion, according to KHON. The fires burned over 3,000 acres and damaged over 2,200 structures in Kula and Lahaina.