The wildfire in Maui is now the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century, with 115 killed and 1,000 still unaccounted for. It’s been weeks since the devastating fires, and families are still desperate to find their missing loved ones. The town of Lahaina, once the cultural and economic heart of the area, has been reduced to ash and rubble.
The Maui wildfires began on August 8 in the grassy hillside area above Lahaina. Maui had been experiencing unseasonably low humidity and drought conditions. Much of the island’s vegetation was dried out. Hurricane Dora, a then-Category 4 storm, brought strong winds as it passed the island. When the wildfires broke out, the high winds fanned the flames. The wildfire raced across western Maui all the way to the Pacific Ocean, damaging or destroying more than 2,000 structures. It burned more than 2,000 acres in Lahaina and hundreds of acres in Kula and Olinda.
What Started the Maui Wildfires?
As investigators worked to determine the cause of the fires that consumed parts of Maui, officials focused on Hawaiian Electric Company, Hawaii’s biggest power utility company. Investigators questioned whether the company did enough to prevent and contain the wildfires.
In a lawsuit dated August 24, 2023, Maui County officials publicly blamed Hawaiian Electric Company and its subsidiaries, claiming that intentional and malicious mismanagement of power lines caused flames to spark. The lawsuit accuses Hawaiian Electric of failing to perform basic maintenance on the power lines and for failing to respond to weather reports warning of hurricane-fueled winds. Maui County officials argue that Hawaiian Electric did not properly maintain its power poles and did not clear out the dried vegetation – even as the climate made Maui more vulnerable to wildfires. Officials are claiming that Hawaiian Electric knew of the extreme fire danger that the strong winds posed to their infrastructure but that employees chose not to “de-energize” the power lines.
Maui County’s civil case is the first time that the local government has directly blamed Hawaii Electric for the wildfires.
Preventing Future Devastation
While Maui County officials are pointing to a perfect storm of climate and negligence – drought conditions, high winds, and poorly maintained electrical equipment – what happened in Maui can teach us how to prevent future devastation.
Maui County and emergency officials are discussing the importance of constructing power equipment that can withstand strong winds, burying power lines as needed, and cutting vegetation back from the utility poles. While it may be unpopular among residents, emergency workers can also consider de-energizing the power lines during severe weather. (In Lahaina, workers were hesitant to turn off the electricity because it powered the water pumps).
It is important to examine what governmental agencies and public utilities knew about this risk and what steps could have been undertaken to prevent this catastrophe. What role did the failure to clear and maintain surrounding land and vegetation play? Why was there inadequate water supply to fight the fires?
Finally, the Maui wildfires show us the importance of planning evacuations in advance and then ordering evacuations in a timely manner and activating emergency sirens. Many of those who died were trapped because of the flames and downed power lines.
Committed to Helping the Community of Lahaina Recover
The devastating Maui wildfires have tragically killed over 100 people so far and the town of Lahaina has been reduced to ash and rubble. It is now the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in over a century, and the worst natural disaster in Hawaii’s history. Our hearts ache for the people of Lahaina and who have lost so much.
The Lahaina community deserves answers and our legal team will undoubtedly get to the bottom of Who is accountable, What caused the fires, Why the fires spread so rapidly, How the fires could have been prevented (now and in the future), and ways to compensate victims for their devastating losses, including personal injuries, such as burns, loss of loved ones, wrongful death and the loss of property, homes, businesses and income.
Bostwick & Peterson attorneys have been practicing personal injury, legal and medical malpractice law in Maui and throughout Hawaii for over 50 years. To support the victims of the Maui wildfires, our law firm has teamed up with local Maui-based personal injury attorney, Cynthia K. Wong of the Law Offices of Cynthia K Wong, LLLC. and renowned trial lawyer and fire expert Frank Pitre of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP. Pitre has been lead counsel or co-lead counsel on most of the major California wildfires. Our collective legal team has begun investigations and is committed to helping the community recover and get answers to prevent this type of tragedy from ever happening again.
Lahaina and the island of Maui hold a special place in Jim Bostwick and Erik Peterson’s hearts. In 1972, Jim Bostwick tried his first Hawaii case on Maui representing a resident of Lahaina. Erik Peterson moved to Maui right after college, lived in Lahaina and worked as a crew member on a sailboat before attending law school.
Bostwick & Peterson has recovered over $1 billion in compensation for clients and won record-setting results in Hawaii, including a recent $15M birth injury case against Tripler Army Medical Center and $11M in recent settlements on Maui. Our firm has also twice broken the record for the largest medical malpractice recovery in California history with a $17M birth injury settlement and $14M neonatal injury settlement.
Please feel free to reach out to us so we can hear your story. We are particularly interested in hearing any information victims may have as to how the fires started and what could/should have been done to prevent them. Call our Hawaii-based offices at (888) 547-7677 or use our online contact form. We are happy to answer any questions you may have.