The electric company operating in Hawaii, including on the island of Maui, is being sued. Hawaiian Electric is accused of operating in a way that would raise the risk of wildfires on the island, after devastating fires destroyed large portions of Maui.
Shareholders of Hawaiian Electric filed a lawsuit on Thursday accusing the electric operator on the island of allegedly operating with inadequate procedures and protocols that put Maui at an increased risk for severe wildfires.
The shareholders, who say they have endured "significant losses and damages" because of the fires, said in court documents that the company committed "wrongful acts," and said there was a "precipitous decline in the market value of its securities."
Shareholders say the electric operator knew the risk of wildfires on the island, but compromised safety, which led to the wildfires.
Hawaiian Electric, the island state's largest utility, saw its stock price drop by at least 70% in the weeks after the devastating wildfires all but destroyed Maui's census-designated area of Lahaina.
Investors are blaming the Honolulu-based electric company, even before an official cause for the wildfires has been determined, according to reports.
This is the first time the County of Maui, or a government agency, is blaming the electric company for the fires.
In a statement on Thursday, the County of Maui said it had "filed a lawsuit against Maui Electric Company, Limited, Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Hawaii Electric Light Company, Inc., and Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc. for civil damages caused to the county’s public property and resources caused by recent Maui fires, including fires in Lahaina and in Kula."
The county said the defendants in the suit acted "negligently by failing to power down their electrical equipment despite a National Weather Service Red Flag Warning on August 7th."
In the statement, the County of Maui wrote that the energy company entities negligently "energized and downed power lines, ignited dry fuel such as grass and brush, causing the fires," and said the company failed "to maintain the system and power grid, which caused the systemic failures starting three different fires on August 8th."
The fires were made much worse on Aug. 8 by high winds.
A fire science expert at Hawaii Community College, Jack Minassian, said, “When you get 60-mile-an-hour winds, the fact is you're not going to stop any fire, period.”
Hawaiian Electric is accused of not shutting down power lines after receiving warnings about high winds in the area that could topple lines and poles and ignite fires.
Around 1,000 names are still on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's unconfirmed list of people unaccounted for after the wildfires destroyed the seaside community of Lahaina.
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