The County of Maui, Hawaii, on Thursday sued Hawaiian Electric, alleging that its failure to cut power despite repeated warnings of potentially devastating fires fueled the windswept flames that devastated Lahaina this month.
The county is seeking damages and “equitable relief” against Hawaiian Electric and three related companies, accusing them of negligence, according to the suit filed in the state’s Second Circuit Court.
The lawsuit said the county is seeking damages for the destruction of public property, infrastructure and natural resources.
The lawsuit states that Hawaiian Electric and another company named as a defendant were warned that strong winds could affect power lines and quickly spread fires.
The lawsuit says that on Aug. 6, two days before the devastating wildfires, the National Weather Service warned that high winds combined with dry conditions caused by Hurricane Dora’s passage to the south posed a serious fire threat.
On the day of the wildfire, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for areas of the Hawaiian Islands, including western Maui, where Lahaina is located.
Despite being aware of the warnings, the defendants “left their power lines active,” according to the lawsuit, which alleges that “the destruction could have been avoided” had the lines been shut down.
“These power lines ignited the rapid, deadly and devastating Lahaina Fire, which has completely destroyed residences, businesses, churches, schools, and historic cultural sites,” the report reads.
The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants were responsible for properly maintaining lines, overhead electrical infrastructure, and other equipment and plants that could come into contact with the equipment so as not to cause a fire.
“In addition, the defendants knew that their electrical infrastructure was inadequate, outdated, and/or vulnerable to predictable and known weather conditions,” the suit says. Ultimately, the defendants failed to fulfill each of these duties.
Hawaiian Electric said in a statement Thursday that its focus in the aftermath of the fires has been to support the people of Maui and the County of Maui.
“We are very disappointed that the county of Maui has chosen this judicial course while the investigation is still ongoing,” she said.
Officials said at least 115 people have died, and about 1,000 more may be missing.
According to the lawsuit, figures from the Pacific Disaster Center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimate that rebuilding Lahaina, a historic port city that was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, will cost $5 billion.
Hawaiian Electric is a for-profit, investor-owned, publicly traded corporation that serves 95% of Hawaii’s electric customers.
The company is facing at least 11 other lawsuits related to the fires, some from Lahaina residents, as well as a lawsuit from investors accusing it of fraud in a federal lawsuit alleging it failed to disclose that its wildfire safety and prevention measures were substandard. .