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Hawaii energy officials testify before Congress on deadly wildfires

Lawmakers focused on assessing whether the safety and maintenance of the electrical grid in Lahaina met the required standards.
Hawaii energy officials to testify before Congress on deadly wildfires
Posted at 6:02 AM, Sep 28, 2023

Officials from Hawaii's public utilities and the state's electric company testified Thursday before Congress about the potential causes of last month's deadly wildfires in Maui.

Members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee wanted to know if the electrical grid played a role in the fires.

The fire was the most deadly U.S. wildfire in over a century, and it claimed at least 97 lives and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in the historic town of Lahaina.

The blaze started on Aug. 8 and was likely triggered by strong winds that caused a Hawaiian Electric power line to fall, sparking a fire in dry brush and grass near the residential area.

Lawmakers asked the companies to provide information on exactly what happened the day the fires started, their efforts to reduce fire risk beforehand, and any information they have gathered so far during their investigation. They say a full accounting is needed so this doesn't happen again.

Witnesses included Hawaiian Electric CEO Shelee Kimura, Hawaii Public Utilities Commission Chair Leodoloff Asuncion Jr., and Hawaii Chief Energy Officer Mark Glick, according to the Associated Press.

Lawmakers focused on assessing whether the safety and maintenance of the electrical grid in Lahaina met the required standards before the fire started. 

Hawaiian Electric maintains that its power lines were not the cause of the deadly fire on Maui, insisting that its infrastructure was powered down for hours before a second fire started in the afternoon.

"The cause of that afternoon fire that spread to Lahaina has not been determined." said Shelee Kimura, President and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, during the hearing. "We are working tirelessly to figure out what happened, and we are cooperating fully with federal and state investigators." 

The hearing comes days after the first group of residents, from among the thousands who lost their homes in Lahaina, returned to find their properties in a devastated state.

SEE MORE: First Lahaina residents return to sites of demolished homes

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