House Republicans are probing Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc.’s role in the deadly Lahaina wildfire amid a contentious blame game over the blaze that killed at least 115 people and caused more than $5.5 billion in damages.
(Bloomberg) — House Republicans are probing Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc.’s role in the deadly Lahaina wildfire amid a contentious blame game over the blaze that killed at least 115 people and caused more than $5.5 billion in damages.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and other committee leaders said in a letter they are seeking more information on the sequence of events that led to the blaze, which has also left hundreds of people missing.
“We must come to a complete understanding of how this disaster started to ensure Hawaii and other states are prepared to prevent and stop other deadly wildfires,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter sent Wednesday to the utility, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission and the Hawaii State Energy Office. “Certain evidence of a downed power line sparking dry grass in Lahaina indicates that Hawaiian Electric equipment may have been the cause.”
Vowing to work with lawmakers, the utility said in an email to Bloomberg Thursday it is “doing everything possible to support those who have been impacted on Maui as we continue our restoration and rebuilding efforts. We are also working with a number of different entities to keep our communities safe, as climate issues rapidly intensify here and around the globe.”
Hawaiian Electric has pushed back against a lawsuit filed by Maui County that accused the company of starting the blaze and has instead suggested the county’s fire department may be responsible for losing control. While a fire on the morning of Aug. 8 apparently was caused by power lines falling in high winds, a second blaze that swept through Lahaina in the afternoon started hours after Hawaiian Electric’s power lines in the area had been turned off, the utility said Monday.
Several lawsuits also have been filed against Hawaiian Electric on behalf of victims, accusing the utility of negligence for not turning off power during critical wildfire conditions.
READ: Hawaii Utility Soars After Pointing Blame for Fire at County
The letter seeks information on actions taken by Hawaiian Electric to address risks to its electric grid, mitigate invasive grasses and vegetation and review the status of proposed fire-related actions pending before the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. The lawmakers also ask what actions Hawaiian Electric took after the the fire “relating to the removal of equipment, including but not limited to, damaged power lines and poles.”
“In our capacity as chairs of the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the U.S. House of Representatives and its respective energy policy and oversight subcommittees, we are empowered to oversee energy supply, reliability of all power, and regulation of energy resources throughout the country,” the lawmakers wrote. “To that end, we seek a fuller understanding of the role, if any, of the electric infrastructure in this tragic event.”
–With assistance from Mark Chediak.
(Updates with comment from utility in fourth paragraph.)
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