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  • Caitlyn Burge-Surles

Hawaiian Electric, Not Climate Change, In Question for Maui Fires

(Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Renewable energy-focused power company Hawaiian Electric Industries is facing a class action lawsuit for its role in the Maui and Big Island fires that decimated the islands August 8 through Wednesday in what is now one of the deadliest wildfires in American history.

ABC News changed their Tuesday article headline “Why climate change can't be blamed for the Maui wildfires,” inserting “entirely” and pointing to an “unknown spark” as the initial cause for the blaze. This “spark” now appears to have been caused by high winds disrupting a power line in a security video that emerged today, causing a bright flash with a subsequent drop in electrical voltage reported by sensors in the area.

Hawaiian Electric has noted their equipment’s tendency to spark since 2019, but due to state regulations requiring Hawaii to achieve 100% green energy by 2045, the company prioritized renewable initiatives over safety measures. Between 2019 and 2022, only $254,000 was devoted to wildfire prevention.

The Washington Post joined the move away from viewing climate change as the primary suspect, reporting that “climate change’s influence on the strong winds and drought that helped charge the fire was probably indirect . . .”

Throughout the week, concerns were raised online over possible land grabs being contributing factors to the wildfires. Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said on Wednesday that the pressure for locals to sell destroyed land is now a very real concern for Maui survivors, stating “My intention from start to finish is to make sure that no one is victimized from a land grab . . .”

Locals have taken to TikTok to decry what they believe is a predatory attack on their property, with other social media users pointing out that the top two owners of Hawaiian Electric are the investment firms BlackRock Fund Advisors and Vanguard Group, Inc. The two firms have been associated with aggressive purchasing of American property.

Other online users expressed disbelief that the Hawaiian government would not use the state’s designated tsunami sirens to warn residents of impending flames. Emergency Management Agency Administrator Herman Andaya said that he did not regret the decision to leave the alarms silent.

Independent publisher “Dr. Miles Stones” rode the initial wave of climate change, publishing his breakout book Fire and Fury: The Story of the 2023 Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change before the fires had been completely extinguished. The promptness of the book’s release has led some X users to propose suspicions that the Maui wildfires had been pre-planned.

Stock in Hawaiian Electric has plummeted 40%, with the class action lawsuit stating that the company “chose not to deenergize their power lines during the High Wind Watch and Red Flag Warning conditions for Maui before the Lahaina Fire started . . .”

As of today Maui’s death toll stands at 111, with Gov. Green estimating that more than 1,000 citizens remain missing. Police have been conducting regular DNA samplings from surviving family members in order to identify the remains of the deceased.


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