Survivors and relatives of victims affected by the Maui wildfires in Hawaii expressed their disappointment in a House hearing, where energy and utility officials failed to provide satisfactory answers regarding the cause of the fires. The President & CEO of Hawaiian Electric, Shelee Kimura, was unable to provide timelines related to the fire’s path, leading to frustration among the attendees. The Committee on Energy and Commerce questioned Kimura and other officials about the origins and prevention of the wildfires, but many key questions remained unanswered.
The devastating wildfires broke out on August 8, resulting in the loss of at least 97 lives and countless homes and businesses. Kimura stated that one fire was caused by fallen power lines, which had been reported to the Maui County Fire Department, but a second fire broke out later in the same area, leading to the widespread destruction. The committee members raised concerns about the electric company’s protocols for shutting off power lines during extreme weather conditions. Kimura admitted that preemptive power shutdowns were not part of their wildfire mitigation plans, but they are now reevaluating their protocols.
The committee focused on examining the role of the electric infrastructure in the tragedy and questioned the officials about the actions taken to modernize and strengthen the electric grid to counter growing wildfire threats. The possibility that Hawaiian Electric equipment contributed to the fires was raised due to evidence of a downed power line sparking dry brush on the island. Additionally, community members expressed a desire for underground power lines as a preventive measure, but cost considerations and the already high rates in Maui posed challenges. The electric company now faces multiple lawsuits regarding negligence and failure to power down equipment despite red flag warnings from the National Weather Service.