Video May Show Cause of the Maui Fire

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

There has been a lot of speculation about the cause of the fire in Maui, which is now being called the deadliest in more than a century. 

Governor Josh Green blamed climate change, but there's now a video that shows the possible cause. 


Shane Treu, who worked for a resort, took video of flames coming from a downed electrical pole on August 8. 


“I heard ‘buzz, buzz’ … It was almost like somebody lit a firework,” the resort worker recalled of the live line sizzling and popping on dry grass outside his home.

“It just ran straight up the hill to a bigger pile of grass and then, with that high wind, that fire was blazing,” he said.

“In a matter of minutes, that whole place was just engulfed.”

Treu filmed three Facebook Live videos from about 6:40 a.m., starting with him trying to battle the blaze with a hose and then warning arriving emergency services about the live power line in the road.

The firefighters thought they had contained it and left. But then the area reignited, according to Robert Arconado. He got a video of that, showing the fire moving toward Lahaina at 3 p.m. He continued to film the carnage as the fire forced people into the sea to escape.

While the official cause of the fire has not yet been declared, there are now multiple lawsuits against Hawaiian Electric Co.

One of the lawyers, Mikal Watts, pointed to Treu's video, “There is credible evidence, captured on video, that at least one of the power line ignition sources occurred when trees fell into a Hawaiian Electric power line.”  He claimed the lines were supposed to be replaced but had not been.  He called it "an entirely preventable tragedy.”

That wasn't all. 

Whisker Labs, which collects and analyzes electrical grid data, said 70 sensors throughout Maui showed an alarmingly high number of sparking power lines throughout the night of Aug. 8 and into the next morning.

The censors registered dozens of record breaks in transmission in areas where fires likely started and around the times they are believed to have begun.

“A substantial amount of energy was discharged,” Whisker Labs CEO Robert Marshall said. 

“Any one of these faults could have caused a wildfire, any could have been an ignition source.”

However, Hawaiian Electric pushed back, saying cutting the power could have negatively affected people who needed it for medical devices as well as the firefighters' ability to pump water. They argued it wasn't necessarily the accepted approach. 

There are also other questions, such as whether people got adequate warnings before the fire was upon them. 

Officials are continuing to investigate, but if it's determined that the power lines did it, that's going to be one heck of a lawsuit, given the scope of the disaster. At this point, while there are 110 declared dead, there are still hundreds unaccounted for, many of them expected to be children. About 2200 structures -- homes and businesses -- were destroyed. So the cost of the damage is likely to be astronomical. 

Watts said Hawaiian Electric was “grossly negligent by making conscious decisions to delay grid modernization projects that would have prevented this very tragedy.” In the suit that he's handling, it says that the "proposed grid hardening expenditures were deferred.” They also didn't spend anything on power pole upgrades or wildfire prevention in 2021, 2022, or 2023, nor had they spent anything on hazard tree removals in 2021 or 2022. 


But there was one other issue as well: While they delayed addressing these issues, during that same period, they were "undertaking a state-mandated shift to renewable energy."  So were they focused on the very real issue of the possible wildfires? 


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