Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. soared after the utility pushed back against a lawsuit filed by Maui County that accused the company of starting the deadly Lahaina fire, suggesting that county’s fire department may be responsible for losing control of the blaze.
(Bloomberg) — Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. soared after the utility pushed back against a lawsuit filed by Maui County that accused the company of starting the deadly Lahaina fire, suggesting that county’s fire department may be responsible for losing control of the blaze.
While a fire on the morning of Aug. 8 was apparently caused by power lines falling in high winds, the second blaze that swept through the town of Lahaina in the afternoon started hours after Hawaiian Electric Co.’s power lines in the area had been turned off, the utility said Monday in a statement.
Shares of parent company Hawaiian Electric Industries surged as much as 52%, the most record. They had tumbled 70% before Monday. Maui County and investors sued the parent company last week, claiming the utility didn’t cut power and take safety measures to contain the fire.
“We were surprised and disappointed that the County of Maui rushed to court even before completing its own investigation,” Shelee Kimura, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Co., known as HECO, said in the statement. “We believe the complaint is factually and legally irresponsible.”
Maui County disputed Hawaiian Electric’s statement on Monday.
“To the extent HECO has information of a second ignition source, HECO should offer that evidence now,” said John Fiske, an attorney representing the county, said in a statement. “The ultimate responsibility rests with HECO to de-energize, ensure its equipment and systems are properly maintained, and ensure downed power lines are not energized.”
Hawaiian Electric’s comments set up what could become a contentious legal fight between the utility and Maui County over who’s to blame for a blaze that razed the historic town of Lahaina, killed at least 115 people and caused more than $5.5 billion in damages. Several lawsuits have also been filed against Hawaiian Electric on behalf of victims, accusing the utility of negligence for not turning off the power during critical wildfire conditions.
Read More: Why Hawaii’s Power Lines Are Suspect In Maui Fire: QuickTake
Hawaiian Electric said the Maui County Fire Department had responded to a morning fire apparently sparked by its power lines and declared by 9 a.m. that the fire was “100% contained.” The Maui County fire chief later reported that his crews had determined the fire was “extinguished,” Hawaiian Electric said.
Shortly before 3 p.m. local time that same day, Hawaiian Electric said its crew members spotted a small fire near the location of the original blaze. The utility said its lines in area had been turned off more than eight hours earlier.
“Unfortunately, the county’s lawsuit may leave us no choice in the legal system but to show its responsibility for what happened that day,” Kimura said.
(Updates with Maui County comment starting in fifth paragraph)
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