Video footage reveals a chilling truth: downed utility lines igniting the infernos that have claimed countless lives on Maui.
In a heart-stopping moment caught on camera at the Maui Bird Conservation Center, a power line spit sparks, setting the surrounding woods ablaze. The jaw-dropping video, shared on Instagram by the Hawaii Department of Land Natural Resources and unveiled by The Washington Post, captures a blinding flash before the camera abruptly loses power. As it flickers back to life, the scene unfolds in a horrifying spectacle of towering flames devouring the landscape.
“The power goes out, our generator kicks in, the camera comes back online, and then the forest is on fire,” said Jennifer Pribble, a senior research coordinator at the bird conservation center.
The footage was captured at a conservation center located in the rural town of Makawao, which is approximately 30 miles away from the city of Lahaina. Sadly, a massive fire destroyed a significant portion of historic Lahaina. The Makawao fire was the first of several reported on the island last week. Prior to the fires, Maui experienced strong winds from a hurricane that was hundreds of miles offshore. Although the Makawao fire did not reach Lahaina, it was one of the many fires that ignited on the island last Monday and Tuesday, eventually affecting the town of 13,000 residents.
According to Whisker Labs, a company that monitors electric grids across the U.S., 10 sensors in Makawao, Hawaii recorded a significant incident in the electric grid at the same time the video footage captured a bright light from the utility line. The bright flash seen in the video is likely an “arc flash,” which occurs when a power line experiences a fault, as explained by an official from Whisker Labs.
“This is strong confirmation — based on real data — that utility grid faults were likely the ignition source for multiple wildfires on Maui,” Bob Marshall, the founder and CEO of Whisker Labs, told the Post.
A representative from Hawaiian Electric declined to provide a comment on the video and sensor data. Instead, they emphasized their commitment to supporting emergency response efforts, restoring power for customers and communities, and developing a long-term recovery plan.
“We know there is speculation about what started the fires, and we, along with others, are working hard to figure out what happened,” spokesman Darren Pai added.
A video captured by Lahaina resident Shane Treu depicts his efforts to combat a fire ignited by a fallen power pole, which rapidly extended alongside a road.
“I heard ‘buzz, buzz,’” Treu told the Associated Press. “It was almost like somebody lit a firework. It just ran straight up the hill to a bigger pile of grass and then, with that high wind, that fire was blazing.”
Hawaiian Electric has been criticized for not implementing power outages during a windstorm, a precautionary measure taken by utility companies in other states to prevent wildfires. The company is currently facing a class-action lawsuit that claims responsibility for over 100 fatalities, as reported by the Associated Press.
“It may turn out that there are other causes of this fire, and the utility lines are not the main cause,” said Michael Wara, a wildfire expert and director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford University. “But if they are, boy, this didn’t need to happen.”