The province of Maui sued Thursday against Hawaiian Electric and its subsidiaries, alleging that the utility company’s negligence caused the devastating wildfires that scorched thousands of acres of land in the state and killed more than 100 people earlier this month.
The lawsuit alleges that the electric company, known as HECO, “kept its power lines gratuitously active” in early August, even though the National Weather Service issued a high wind warning and fire warning. The lawsuit noted that the warnings warned that strong winds could knock down power lines and ignite a rapidly spreading fire due to the dry conditions.
The lawsuit states that “the fire was a direct and legal consequence of HECO’s negligence, negligence, recklessness, and/or illegality.”
The County of Maui is seeking damages from HECO that could total in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, according to John Fisk, the attorney representing the county in the suit.
A HECO representative did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
This is the first time that a Hawaiian government entity has officially accused the utility of playing a role in the deadliest fire in the United States in more than a century.
HECO is also the subject of a proposed class-action lawsuit filed earlier this month that accused the electric company of choosing not to “deactivate its power lines after learning that certain poles and lines had fallen and were in contact with vegetation or the ground.”
“Our immediate focus is to support Maui’s emergency response efforts and restore power to our customers and our communities as quickly as possible. At this early stage, the cause of the fire has not been determined and we will work with the state and county during the process,” Hawaiian Electric vice president Jim Kelly told CNN. review them.”
He added that Hawaiian Electric does not have an official shutdown program, and precautionary shutdowns must be arranged with first responders. “The electricity operates the pumps that provide the water needed to fight the fires,” he said.
The Hawaiian Electric Company is a for-profit company that serves 95% of Hawaii’s customer base deals on the New York Stock Exchange.
This isn’t the first time a utility company has been blamed for its alleged role in a powerful wildfire in recent years. And in California, Pacific Gas and Electric reached settlements estimated b $25.5 billion, including $1 billion in settlements with cities and counties and $11 billion in settlements with insurance companies, after the company pleaded guilty to its role in the deadly 2018 Camp Fire.
The Hawaiian wildfires, which began on August 8, have destroyed more than 2,000 acres in Lahaina, and hundreds of acres in Kula and Olinda on the island of Maui.
The resulting destruction of homes, businesses and infrastructure could lead to economic losses of up to $6 billion, according to an estimate by Moody’s RMS.
–CNN’s Paradise Afshar contributed reporting.