The survivors and relatives of victims of the Maui wildfires in Hawaii expressed disappointment in the lack of answers from energy and utility officials during a House hearing. The officials, including the President & CEO of Hawaiian Electric Shelee Kimura, were questioned about the cause of the deadly wildfires and how they could have been prevented. Survivors criticized the lack of information provided by Kimura and called for better protocols to ensure the safety of individuals. However, Kimura was unable to answer several questions, such as why risk mitigation protocols were not triggered during the storm and how long it took for energy to be removed from power lines when turned off.
The Committee on Energy and Commerce emphasized the need to understand the role of the electric infrastructure in the disaster to prevent similar incidents in the future. The wildfires, which broke out on August 8, resulted in the death of at least 97 people and the destruction of numerous homes and businesses. Kimura stated that power lines falling in high winds caused the initial fire, and all power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for over six hours. However, a second fire started in the same area later in the day, causing further devastation. The committee raised questions about the company’s protocols for shutting off power lines during extreme weather conditions and inquired about the actions taken to modernize and strengthen the Maui electric grid.
The company is facing multiple lawsuits following the wildfires. Maui County has filed a lawsuit against the local electric company, alleging negligence for failing to power down their electrical equipment despite a red flag warning. A separate class-action lawsuit has also been filed against Hawaiian Electric, accusing the company of keeping their power lines energized despite forecasts of high winds. Kimura dismissed the allegations in the lawsuits, claiming that the company responded promptly to both fires. Community members have expressed a desire to have power lines underground as a preventive measure, but Kimura highlighted the economic challenges and high costs associated with such a decision on a small island like Maui.