Evidence is emerging that electric power infrastructure on the Hawaiian island of Maui may have contributed to the spread of the wildfires that killed at least 99 people and destroyed much of the historic town of Lahaina.
Hawaiian Electric Company faces new criticism for keeping the power on while high winds brought poles down. A pair of class-action lawsuits is seeking to hold the company liable for damages and for deaths as a result of the fire, among other remedies.
Lawyers who spoke to the Associated Press say they have video evidence of power-lines causing fires after coming into contact with windblown trees.
According to the Associated Press, Hawaiian Electric Co. accounted for the risks of wind to its power-lines in some planning documents, which cited events like the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed 85 people after downed power lines started blazes. But there were reportedly no plans in place to cut power when the fires started on Maui.
At a Monday news conference, Hawaiian Electric Co. CEO Shelee Kimura said there were a lot of variables that go into decisions to cut the power, which may be needed to keep emergency or health care services running.
"Even in places where [cutting power] has been used, it is controversial, and it's not universally accepted," Kimura said.
At the same conference, facing complaints that communications failures were complicating rescue efforts, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier pointed out that power would be required to keep the island's cellular and internet services running.
"Do you want notifications or do you want the power shut off?" he said. "You don’t get it both ways."
Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez said last week that her office would make "a comprehensive review of critical decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during and after the wildfires."
Hawaiian Electric Co. says it has opened its own investigation as well.
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