Strength of Ohana

Smoke on the water

What was once a quaint, historic town on the Western coast of Maui, Lahaina is now flattened to ash.  In the aftermath of the crushing wildfires in Maui that displaced residents living in Lahaina and left over 115 people dead and hundreds still missing, Maui County has filed legal action against Hawaiian Electric.  The utility company’s alleged negligence is pinned as the cause of the blaze.  Maui is suing for civil damages, to recover lost tax revenue and the destruction of infrastructure and roads.  The lawsuit is described as a cost recovery action that will benefit taxpayers. 

In advance of a high wind advisory and red flag warning, Hawaiian Electric failed to deenergize its utility lines.  In addition, while the company’s equipment fell to the ground, it continued to run a current of energy that ignited dry brush, which eventually escalated to an uncontrollable wildfire.  As cell phone videos captured people running into the ocean to evade harm, news coverage of the devastation illustrated what little warning people had to escape the fires.  One individual recounted the disorienting, palpable chaos, and the need to spend hours in the water, staying afloat by holding a piece of plywood in one arm and a stranger’s two-year-old child in the other.   

The lawsuit alleges that if Hawaiian Electric would have performed maintenance and repairs on its utility lines and equipment, the levelling of Lahaina and loss of life could have been prevented.  In response to the lawsuit, the CEO of Hawaiian Electric has issued a statement criticizing Maui County’s decision to file, calling it irresponsible to take legal steps before completing a full investigation.  Until a proper recovery effort is sought, the strong community of Lahaina is forced to push forward and remember the beautiful town that once stood.  The historical Front Street, once home to shops, restaurants, and seafront views must now act as a starting point for reconstruction and rebirth.