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Hawaii Power Company Takes Partial Responsibility for One of Maui's Wildfires

The company also suggested that the local fire department was ultimately to blame for the devastation in the Lahaina area.

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A view of the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 21, 2023.Photo: Jae C. Hong (AP)
A view of the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 21, 2023.Photo: Jae C. Hong (AP)

Hawaiian Electric Company, the electric company that was sued by Maui last week, responded to the lawsuit over the weekend. In the official response, the company also faulted local firefighters for leaving the scene of the fire too early.

The company uploaded a statement to its website on Sunday night, which was in response to the County of Maui filing a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric on Thursday. In the lawsuit filing, officials said that the company was in part responsible for the fires because it did not shut down power in early August when the islands experienced dry conditions and dangerous winds. Company leadership explained that they were “surprised and disappointed” that county officials went to court.


“We believe the complaint is factually and legally irresponsible. It is inconsistent with the path that we believe we should pursue as a resilient community committed and accountable to each other as well as to Hawaii’s future,” Shelee Kimura, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, said in the statement. “We continue to stand ready to work to that end with our communities and others. Unfortunately, the county’s lawsuit may leave us no choice in the legal system but to show its responsibility for what happened that day.”

The company took responsibility for the first fire that sparked on August 8, writing the earlier fire was “caused by power lines that fell in high winds.” But a second fire sparked in Maui later on. This occurred after the electric company’s power lines in West Maui had been shut off for more than six hours, according to the statement.


“By the time the Maui County Fire Department arrived back on the scene, it was not able to contain the Afternoon Fire and it spread out of control toward Lahaina,” the company’s statement said.

Richard Fried, a Honolulu attorney and co-counsel on Maui County’s lawsuit, told the Associated Press that had the company maintained power lines, the initial fire wouldn’t have started. This lawsuit came after authorities learned that down power lines likely sparked the fires. The electric infrastructure was damaged by the strong winds when Hurricane Dora swept past, just 500 miles south of Hawaii in early August.

The flames were spread not only by the strong winds and damaged infrastructure but also by the especially dry conditions throughout Maui this summer. Most of the county is under some sort of drought condition this month, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The Hawaiian Electric co-CEO said that there are “lessons to be learned” from the tragedy of these fires that have destroyed more than 2,000 structures and have killed more than 100 people. “We are resolved to figure out what we need to do to keep our communities safe as climate issues rapidly intensify here and around the globe,” Kimura said in the company statement.


Want more climate and environment stories? Check out Earther’s guides to decarbonizing your home, divesting from fossil fuels, packing a disaster go bag, and overcoming climate dread. And don’t miss our coverage of the latest IPCC climate report, the future of carbon dioxide removal, and the invasive plants you should rip to shreds.