While the cause of the deadly Maui fires is still being investigated, lawyers are sending experts to the island to look into utility power lines as a possible source of ignition.
Watts Guerra, Singleton Schreiber, and Frantz Law Group attorneys said they have been gathering evidence, interviewing eyewitnesses, and reviewing reports that indicate Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc.’s damaged power infrastructure ignited the fire.
“All evidence — videos, witness accounts, burn progression, and utility equipment remaining — points to Hawaiian Electric’s equipment being the ignition source of the fire that devastated Lahaina,” said Mikal Watts, a Puerto Rico-based plaintiffs lawyer at Watts Guerra.
According to an email statement from Hawaiian Electric spokesman Darren Pai, the company does not know what caused the fires.
“Access to the impacted area is also limited for safety and emergency response concerns,” Pai said. “After the immediate emergency has passed, we will work with the County and others to investigate what happened on Maui.”
Officials have not said what sparked the fires, which were fanned by hurricane-force winds and leveled the historic town of Lahaina. The investigation into what Hawaii Governor Josh Green described as the state’s largest-ever natural disaster could take weeks or months to conclude.
On Saturday, rescue workers continued to dig through the ash and rubble, bringing the official death toll from the fires to 93.
Navigating Fire Risk and Accountability: Hawaiian Electric’s Actions Under Scrutiny
Hawaiian Electric, which operates Maui Electric, has been criticized for failing to turn off the power despite warnings of critical fire conditions due to predicted dry, gale-force winds. The utility said earlier this week that strong winds had downed power lines and snapped power poles ahead of the fires.
However, many things, including backfiring cars and trucks dragging chains down the road, can start a fire in the right conditions.
Sensors responsible for tracking the flow of power into homes identified a significant grid malfunction slightly past 11:38 p.m. on August 7th, local time. This occurred approximately 20 minutes prior to the initial report of a fire in Maui.
Subsequently, numerous faults emerged overnight. This information was shared by Bob Marshall, the CEO of Whisker Labs Inc.
The magnitude of voltage swings used by the company’s plug-in household devices to determine whether a fault is occurring on utility equipment. The strongest readings on Maui were found near Lahaina.
While Marshall cautioned that it is unclear whether the faults were the ignition sources, he added that fires require a spark and that there is “clear data showing dozens of major grid faults in the area of the fires and around the start times of the fires.
Hawaii Electric doesn’t have a formal power shutoff program for fire risk, Pai said.“Preemptive, short-notice power shutoffs have to be coordinated with first responders, and in Lahaina, electricity powers the pumps that provide the water needed for firefighting,” Pai said.
The utility has a “robust wildfire mitigation and grid resiliency program that includes vegetation management, grid hardening investments, and regular inspection of our assets,” he added.
Attorney Gerald Singleton said his firm, Singleton Schreiber, was flying investigators to Maui this weekend to look into witness accounts of falling power lines and then fires starting, though an actual cause has yet to be determined.
“This wasn’t something they couldn’t have predicted,” Singleton said of the high winds taking down lines. “It’s hard to understand why more precautions weren’t taken.”
Source: Yahoo! Finance