HONOLULU – Maui County sued Hawaiian Electrical Firm on Thursday over the fires that devastated Lahaina, saying the utility negligently did not shut off energy regardless of exceptionally excessive winds and dry circumstances.

Witness accounts and video indicated that sparks from energy strains ignited fires as utility poles snapped within the winds, which had been pushed by a passing hurricane. The Aug. 8 fires killed a minimum of 115 individuals and left an unknown variety of others lacking, making them the deadliest within the U.S. in additional than a century.

Hawaii Electrical mentioned in an announcement it’s “very disappointed that Maui County chose this litigious path while the investigation is still unfolding.”

The lawsuit said the destruction could have been avoided and that the utility had a duty “to properly maintain and repair the electric transmission lines, and other equipment including utility poles associated with their transmission of electricity, and to keep vegetation properly trimmed and maintained so as to prevent contact with overhead power lines and other electric equipment.”

The utility knew that high winds “would topple power poles, knock down power lines, and ignite vegetation,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants also knew that if their overhead electrical equipment ignited a fire, it would spread at a critically rapid rate.”

A drought in the region had left plants, including invasive grasses, dangerously dry. As Hurricane Dora passed roughly 500 miles (800 kilometers) south of Hawaii, strong winds toppled at least 30 power poles in West Maui. Video shot by a Lahaina resident shows a downed power line setting dry grasses alight. Firefighters initially contained that fire, but then left to attend to other calls, and residents said the fire later reignited and raced toward downtown Lahaina.

With downed power lines, police or utility crews blocking some roads, traffic ground to a standstill along Lahaina’s Front Street. A number of residents jumped into the water off Maui as they tried to escape the flaming debris and overheated black smoke enveloping downtown.

Dozens of searchers in snorkel gear this week have been combing a 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) stretch of water for signs of anyone who might have perished. Crews are also painstakingly searching for remains among the ashes of destroyed businesses and multistory residential buildings.

For now, the number of confirmed dead stands at 115, a number that the county said is expected to rise.

Maui County on Thursday released eight additional names of people who have been identified, including a family of four whose remains were found in a burned car near their home: 7-year-old Tony Takafua; his mother Salote Tone, 39; and his grandparents Faaoso Tone, 70, and Maluifonua Tone, 73.

The FBI and Maui County police are still trying to figure out how many others might be unaccounted for. The FBI said Tuesday there were 1,000 to 1,100 names on a tentative, unconfirmed list.

“Our primary focus in the wake of this unimaginable tragedy has been to do everything we can to support not just the people of Maui, but also Maui County,” Hawaiian Electric’s statement said.

Hawaiian Electric is a for-profit, investor-owned, publicly traded utility that serves 95% of Hawaii’s electric customers. It is also facing several lawsuits from Lahaina residents as well as one from some of its own investors, who accused it of fraud in a federal lawsuit Thursday, saying it failed to disclose that its wildfire prevention and safety measures were inadequate.

Maui County’s lawsuit notes other utilities, such as Southern California Edison Company, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric, have procedures for shutting off power during bad windstorms and said the “severe and catastrophic losses … could have easily been prevented” if Hawaiian Electrical had the same shutoff plan.

The county mentioned it’s looking for compensation for harm to public property and assets in Lahaina in addition to close by Kula.

Different utilities have been discovered answerable for devastating fires just lately.

In June, a jury in Oregon discovered the electrical utility PacifiCorp answerable for inflicting devastating fires throughout Labor Day weekend in 2020, ordering the corporate to pay tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars} to 17 householders who sued and discovering it answerable for broader damages that would push the full award into the billions.

Pacific Fuel & Electrical declared chapter and pleaded responsible to 84 counts of manslaughter after its uncared for gear precipitated a fireplace within the Sierra Nevada foothills in 2018 that destroyed practically 19,000 properties, companies and different buildings and just about razed the city of Paradise, California.


Johnson reported from Seattle.

Copyright 2023 The Related Press. All rights reserved. This materials is probably not printed, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed with out permission.