The Men in Charge Fiddled as Hawaii Burned

By Jason Scott Jones Published on April 25, 2024

Eight months have flown by since the town of Lahaina was destroyed by fire, and our masters are counting on us to have forgotten what they did. When the deadly fires scorched the small Maui town in August 2023, we were all scrambling for answers. This was one of the deadliest fires in U.S. history. How did authorities let it happen?

Now, an official revelation slices through the mystery, and we know at least how the horror started: Hawaiian Electric’s overhead power line snapped.

But that answer doesn’t resolve things, apart from a few conspiracy theories. Instead, it demands we pose more searching questions.

The Power Company at Fault

In fact, on that fateful day, as the ground crew watched in real time, the origins of the blaze seemed undeniable: a fractured power cable. What followed was an inferno. The horrors that afflicted thousands of Americans wouldn’t be known for several days: 101 deaths, thousands of homes and businesses laid ruin, damages totaling more than $5.5 billion. Countless families found themselves without a roof over their heads or a kitchen to prepare a meal.

State authorities in Hawaii have finally unveiled the Lahaina Fire Comprehensive Timeline Report. It’s part of an independent scrutiny by the Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), a branch of UL Research Institutes. This report methodically lays out the sequence of events and authorities’ responses to them.

In its 376 pages, the report includes a detailed transcript of communications between an emergency services operator and the Hawaiian Electric Company. Someone called in about a malfunctioning power line on the morning of August 8: “The origin of the Lahaina Fire can be traced back to 6:35 a.m., when a fast-moving brush fire, later dubbed the ‘Lahaina AM Fire’ ignited.” A second “Lahaina PM fire” was reported in the same location as the earlier one, spreading dangerously due to sustained high winds.

Hawaiian Electric, whose largest shareholders are The Vanguard Group, Inc., and Blackrock, Inc., remains in denial. It claims the major fire that destroyed Lahaina was from a different second blaze that began in the afternoon, after its power lines had been shut down.

Why Didn’t They Make People Safe?

A better question for all of us to ask is: Why were there old, frail powerlines draped all across an island with a hot climate, over fields of dry, highly flammable grass? You don’t see power lines running through wealthy neighborhoods where influential voters live. They rightly demand that authorities bury them safely underground.

But the government in Hawaii never attempted such a mandate, despite warning signs like the extensive Maui fires in 2018, which incinerated an estimated 25,000 acres of sugarcane fields and parched scrubland. The authorities put up the power lines back then, and they are doing it again today. The same power lines that caused the 2023 fires are now going back up across Maui.

This Isn’t Some Black Swan Threat

Fire dangers from overhead power lines aren’t some kind of black swan event, but a frequent and well-documented risk. The renowned Santa Ana winds of Southern California regularly topple power lines and have consequently sparked several of the most widespread fires within the state.

Likewise, in Oregon, power lines played a central role in the Labor Day weekend wildfires of 2020. In 2023, court documents revealed that Oregon officials wanted utilities to shut down power lines before those wildfires. This is because the state has already suffered, for instance during the 2020 Archie Creek Fire in Southern Oregon, when the utility PacificCorp paid out millions in compensation.

According to a 2022 University of Wisconsin report, “power line faults are one of the major sources of wildfire ignitions” and “wildfires ignited by power lines tend to be larger than fires from other causes.” They conclude that the best strategy a utility or a state can employ is to take the power lines underground.

There’s No “Off Switch” for Wildfires

Just shutting off power lines when winds get high isn’t the answer. If the utility shuts off power preemptively, it will affect critical infrastructure that people and communities depend upon. The operation of medical devices, cell phone transmission towers, water pumps, air conditioning, and a host of various other crucial services will go dead. After paying a $13.5 billion settlement to victims of wildfires its equipment had caused (including what was then the deadliest wildfire in 100 years), Pacific Gas & Electric in California enacted preventive power outages in 2019 on up to three million Californians. That’s no answer, just another kind of abuse imposed on citizens.

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Matt Simon, in a 2023 Wired column, notes that “burying lines is costly, but it is still less costly than the billions of dollars in damages unleashed by a single blaze, or the incalculable loss of human life.” This is why utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric, Florida Power and Light, and Austin Energy all have initiated burying their lines.

The State of Hawaii has blown $10 billion so far on the Honolulu Rail Project, making only 11 miles of progress on this unfinished boondoggle since starting construction in 2011. Elected officials could have buried power lines across the entire state for much less, saving lives and billions in fire damage in the process.

Short-term preventive measures with severe consequences are not the answer for the people of Lahaina and Hawaii. They need a permanent solution that will supply uninterrupted power to people while completely ruling out future fires caused by power lines. But are the low-income citizens of Hawaii a priority to their liberal Democrat government?

They haven’t been so far.


Jason Jones is a film producer, author, activist, popular podcast host, and human rights worker. He is president of the Human-Rights Education and Relief Organization (H.E.R.O.), known for its two main programs, the Vulnerable People Project and Movie to Movement. He was the first recipient of the East Turkistan Order of Friendship Medal for his advocacy of the Uyghur people. Jones was an executive producer of Bella and an associate producer of The Stoning of Soraya M. His humanitarian efforts have aided millions in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and the Ukraine, as well as pregnancy centers and women’s shelters throughout North America. Jones is a senior contributor to The Stream and the host of The Jason Jones Show. He is also the author of three books: The Race to Save Our Century, The World Is on Fire, and his latest, The Great Campaign Against the Great Reset. His latest film, Divided Hearts of America, is available on Amazon Prime.

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