Hawaiian Electric admitted its power lines sparked a wildfire in Maui, but blamed county firefighters for declaring the blaze contained and leaving the scene, only to see a second wildfire break out nearby, the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century Wildfire.

Hawaiian Electric issued a statement Sunday night in response to the Maui County lawsuit accuses utility Despite the particularly strong wind and dry weather, the power supply could not be cut off. Hawaiian Electric called the complaint “neither factual nor legally responsible,” and said its West Maui power lines were out for more than six hours before the second fire broke out.

The utility addressed the issue for the first time in a statement. The fire, which broke out on the morning of Aug. 8, “appeared to have been caused by downed power lines in high winds,” it said. The Associated Press reported on Saturday Likely causes were exposed wires that could spark when they made contact, and Maui’s sloping utility poles.

But Hawaiian Electric appears to be blaming Maui County for most of the damage — and indeed, the fire appears to have reignited that afternoon, and through downtown Lahainakilling at least 115 people and destroying 2,000 buildings.

Neither a county spokesman nor its attorney immediately responded to requests for comment on Hawaiian Electric’s statement earlier Monday.

The Maui County Fire Department responded to the morning blaze, reporting it was “100% contained,” before leaving the scene and later declaring the fire “extinguished,” Hawaiian Electric said.

Hawaiian Electric said its crews then went to the scene to make repairs but saw no fire, smoke or embers. Power is turned off in the area. The crews saw a small fire in a nearby field around 3 p.m. and called 911.

Hawaiian Electric rejected the basis of the Maui County lawsuit, saying its power lines had been out for more than six hours at the time and the cause of the afternoon fire had not been determined.

A drought Plants in the area, including invasive grasses, are dangerously dry. Strong winds toppled utility poles in western Maui as Hurricane Dora passed about 500 miles (800 kilometers) south of Hawaii. Video taken by Lahaina residents showed a downed power line igniting dry grass. Firefighters initially contained the blaze, but then left to take other calls, and residents said it was reignited and spread toward downtown Lahaina.

Video and images analyzed by The Associated Press confirmed that the power lines that sparked the morning’s blaze lay on miles of utility lines exposed to weather and dense foliage, despite the utility’s recent presence in other wildfires and hurricanes. Regions drive this work. Cover or bury their lines.

Compounding the problem, many of the utility’s 60,000 poles, mostly wooden, which its own documents describe as being built to “obsolete 1960s standards,” are is leaning and is approaching its estimated useful life. They fall well short of the 2002 state standard that critical components of Hawaii’s electrical grid can withstand 105-mph winds.

Hawaiian Electric is an investor-owned, for-profit, public utility company that serves 95 percent of Hawaiian Electric’s customers. Chief executive Shelee Kimura said there were important lessons to be learned from the tragedy and resolved that “as climate issues rapidly intensify at home and abroad, we need to figure out what we need to do to keep our communities safe.”

The utility faces a slew of new lawsuits seeking to hold it accountable for the deadliest U.S. wildfires in more than a century. Wailuku attorney Paul Starita, who led Singleton Schreiber’s three lawsuits, called it “an epic tragedy that could have been prevented.”


The AP’s climate and environment coverage is supported by several private foundations.Learn more about the AP Climate Initiative here. The Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.


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