First reported Maui fire may have been caused by damaged power lines, independent report claims


(NEW YORK) — Maui’s first reported wildfire last week may have been caused by damaged power lines, according to newly released research conducted by a power monitoring company.

On Aug. 7, more than an hour before Maui authorities said the first fire erupted according to authorities, a security camera at the Maui Bird Conservation Center in the east Maui region of Upcountry, captured a bright flash in the woods.

“It’s windy, and then there’s a flash, and I think that’s when a tree is falling on a power line,” Jennifer Pribble, a senior research coordinator at the Conservation Center, said in the video that was later released. “The power goes out, our generator kicks on, the camera comes back online, and then the forest is on fire.”

Bob Marshall, the CEO of Whisker Labs, a company that sells in-home sensors to monitor for precursors to electric fires, told ABC News this bright flash in the footage is known as an “arc flash,” which happens when a power line comes in contact with something like a tree or vegetation.

Marshall said his company sensors in homes in Upcountry, which document faults on the utility grid, recorded a “very sharp drop in electrical voltage” at precisely the same time the flash was seen in the video.

“These two things are perfectly correlated in time. So, this is a measurement of the grid and the video showing the same event,” Marshall said. ” One is a video image. One is a measurement of the electricity on the grid.”

The video was recorded at 10:47 PM on Aug. 7. The fire was reported shortly after midnight, according to Maui County authorities.

Whisker Labs said it has 325,000 sensors across the U.S., 1,000 in Hawaii, and 78 in Maui.

The company released a report Wednesday to ABC News that data from its Maui sensors recorded 122 faults from Aug. 7 to Aug. 8.

“What we know is that the grid was incredibly stressed Monday night and throughout the day on Tuesday,” Marshall said. “It was trying to deal with the winds that it was encountering and what our network clearly documents is that there were 122 faults that occurred throughout that time period, any one of which could have ignited a fire.”

The company recorded 27 faults around 5:00 a.m. local time Aug. 8, before losing all connection to their sensors in Lahaina roughly 90 minutes later.

Marshall said historical data from the sensors in the region recorded about five power faults a day on average.

When asked about Whisker Labs’ data, Hawaiian Electric, which is the subject of a class action lawsuit by Lahaina victims and survivors who contend the utility didn’t properly shut off the power during the storms, told ABC News in a statement, “We don’t comment on pending litigation.”

“At this early stage, the cause of the fire has not been determined and we will work with the state and county as they conduct their review,” Hawaiian Electric said in a statement.

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