Maui Fire Lawyers – Congressional Inquiry To Focus on the Cause of the Deadly Lahaina Fire

STAR-ADVERTISER Shelee Kimura: The president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Co. said the utility is cooperating fully with investigators to find the cause of the fire

STAR-ADVERTISER

Shelee Kimura: The president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Co. said the utility is cooperating fully with investigators to find the cause of the fire

Members of Congress today will attempt to get to the bottom of what led to the deadly Lahaina firestorm — including questions that to date have gone largely unanswered about the timeline of what happened Aug. 8, Hawaiian Electric Co.’s electrical grid, and wildfire mitigation measures.

Congress will question HECO’s top executive, the chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission and Hawaii’s chief energy officer today about the role the electrical grid played in the Lahaina fires that killed at least 97, left 7,500 homeless and caused $5.5 billion in damage.

The first hearing about the circumstances, “Investigating the Role of Electric Infrastructure in the Catastrophic Maui Fire,” will be held by the 52-member U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

No Hawaii lawmakers sit on the committee.

According to a memo to members from the committee’s majority Republican staff, lawmakers will ask about the “sequence of events” surrounding the Maui fires and what “utility infrastructure conditions that may have exacerbated the risk” of a catastrophic fire that is the deadliest in the country in a century.

Shelee Kimura, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric; Leodoloff Asuncion Jr., chair of the PUC; and Mark Glick, the state’s chief energy officer, will make opening statements before being questioned by the members. Members plan to question Kimura about HECO’s “actions and plans to address fire risks, maintain its equipment and secure the grid against intensifying threats such as wildfires,” and the status of efforts to harden and protect Maui’s grid against wildfires.

The committee also wants to know about HECO’s “prioritization of fire safety precautions among competing priorities for grid modernization and improvement.”

HECO through subsidiary Maui Electric Co. serves about 70,000 customers on the island.

In prepared remarks obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Kimura, who took over the top job at the 132-year-old utility in January 2022, said of Aug. 8 “we saw human loss and devastation at a speed and on a scale that even two months later is difficult for our hearts and minds to process. I want to start by honoring those lost and those whose lives have been forever changed by this overwhelming and tragic event,” Kimura wrote.

“We all want to learn about what happened on August 8 so that it never happens again. On that day, a fire at 6:30 a.m., the ‘Morning Fire,’ appears to have been caused by power lines that fell in high winds. The Maui County Fire Department responded to this morning fire and reported that by 9 a.m. it was ‘100% contained.’ The fire department later determined it had been ‘extinguished’ and left the scene in the early afternoon,” wrote Kimura. “At about 3 p.m., a time when all of Hawaiian Electric’s power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours, a second fire, the ‘Afternoon Fire,’ began in the same area. The cause of this Afternoon Fire that devastated Lahaina has not been determined.”

Kimura said the utility is working “tirelessly” to figure out what happened, and is cooperating fully with investigators from the state Department of the Attorney General and U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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