How high winds and powerlines contributed to the Maui Wildfires

On August 12th, Lahaina residents filed a class action lawsuit against both the Hawaiian and Maui Electric Companies.
Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 4:36 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The island of Maui is searching for answers in the midst of the devastation left behind by the extensive wildfires that swept across the region. With the confirmed death total reaching 106 - people from the community are taking steps of action to hold someone accountable for the tragedy.

On August 12th, Lahaina residents filed a class action lawsuit against both the Hawaiian and Maui Electric Companies - stating that “This destruction could have been avoided if Defendants had heeded the National Weather Service warnings and de-energized their power lines during the predicted high-wind event.”

“You would have to be talking about some really substantial winds for them to actually tear apart or push over a pole,” stated First Alert Meteorologist Jim Caldwell.

The lawsuit alleges that Hawaiian Electric had studied wildfire mitigation programs, including the approach to a ‘power shut-off plan.’ This would mean that in events of extreme winds or fire weather risk - the company would shut off power to prevent the risk of fallen lines sparking flames. On August 8th, the National Weather Service in Honolulu issued a high wind alert - but Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen confirmed that some electrical lines were energized when they hit the ground.

Caldwell described the situation in Maui, saying, “You had the possible power line issue out there - and then you throw the wind on top of that, it will spread the flames. That’s what we are always in fear of when we start talking about wildfires and forest fires around here, we want a nice calm day. Cause when you start getting that wind, it can cause a fire to go miles in a hurry.”

From 1992 to 2020, emergency services have dealt with 32,652 powerline-ignited wildfires across the US - prompting states such as California, Oregon, and Nevada to implement safety strategies to shut off power proactively with high wind conditions. A KU Spokesperson shared that as Maui begins to rebuild - safety in power utility should always be a priority.

" We work with a lot of partners to be able to share the best information, the best technology, and the latest upgrades. And those are the things that every utility really should invest in and be able to provide to best protect their customers.”

WKYT and Gray Television are helping lend a hand through the Salvation Army to assist the people of Maui. To donate text fire relief to 5-1-5-5-5.

All the designated gifts will be used to support those affected by the disaster.