FILE – Electric crews work on power lines in the aftermath of a devastating wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. Lawyers for Lahaina residents and business owners told a court Tuesday, Sept. 5, that cable TV and telephone companies share in responsibility for the wildfires that devastated the island. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
HONOLULU (AP) — After a visit to a warehouse where Hawaiian Electric Company is housing power poles and electrical equipment that may be key to the investigation of last month’s devastating fires on Maui, lawyers for Lahaina residents and business owners told a court Tuesday that cable TV and telephone companies share responsibility for the disaster because they allegedly overloaded and destabilized some of the poles.
The lawyers said the cables were attached in a way that put too much tension on the poles, causing them to lean and break in the winds on Aug. 8 when flames burned down much of Lahaina, killing at least 115 people and destroying more than 2,000 structures.
LippSmith LLP has filed a proposed class action against Hawaii’s electric utility and Maui County in state court in Hawaii. Attorney Graham LippSmith is now asking the court to add multiple telecommunications companies and public and private landowners to the original suit.
The proposed amended complaint still holds the power utilities responsible for the wildfires. It accuses them of failing to shut off power preemptively despite exceptionally high winds and dry conditions, failing to replace old wooden poles too weak to withstand 105 mph (169 kph) winds as required by a 2002 national standard, briefly recharging the lines on Aug. 8 in parts of Lahaina and blocking evacuation routes while crews serviced downed lines.
The complaint also seeks to hold other parties responsible. It says when old wooden power poles fell, they landed on highly flammable vegetation that had not been maintained by private and state landowners and both “ignited the fire and fueled its cataclysmic spread.” It says the county should have properly maintained vegetation, aggressively reduced nonnative plants, and sounded sirens to warn people of the approaching fire.