Maui Fire Lawyers – Hawaiian Electric May Have Tampered Fire Evidence

a damaged pole and coiled-up lines

LEFT: On Aug. 12, a damaged pole and coiled-up lines sit in a dirty alleyway off Lahaina Road near Lahainaluna High School and a Hawaiian Electric substation. RIGHT: By Aug. 20, the pole and much of the equipment had been removed. (Washington Post illustration; Photos by Brianna Sacks and Allyson Chiu/The Washington Post)

Hawaiian Electric — which acted quickly to restore power on the island after Aug. 8 — hauled away fallen poles, power lines, transformers, conductors and other equipment from near a Lahaina substation starting around Aug. 12, documents show, before investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) arrived on scene.

Those actions may have violated national guidelines on how utilities should handle and preserve evidence after a wildfire and deprives investigators the opportunity to view any poles or downed lines in an undisturbed condition before or after the fire started, according to court documents, letters and other records obtained by The Washington Post.

Starting Aug. 10, a law firm representing more than two dozen Lahaina families asked Hawaiian Electric two times to preserve evidence, according to correspondence obtained by The Post. The next day, one of the utility’s attorneys replied that Hawaiian Electric’s main focus was the safety of first responders actively fighting the fires; displaced residents; and restoring power.

“Hawaiian Electric will take reasonable steps to preserve evidence but cannot make any guarantees due to the rapidly evolving situation on the ground, which also is not within our control,” the letter said.

In response, attorneys quickly submitted a temporary restraining order to stop Hawaiian Electric from greatly altering the scene where it’s believed the first fire in Lahaina started, court documents show.
On Aug. 18, a judge signed an interim discovery order, which detailed how the utility should handle evidence around the “suspected area of origin.”

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