State’s independent investigators haven’t ruled out criminal wrongdoing in Lahaina

Interviews are being conducted as part of an independent investigation into the Lahaina wildfire
Published: Sep. 4, 2023 at 4:55 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 5, 2023 at 11:02 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Interviews are being conducted as part of an independent investigation into the Lahaina wildfire that will look at possible causes, government missteps and even whether there is any criminal wrongdoing that the state should pursue.

The state Attorney General’s Office has hired the nationally-recognized Fire Safety Research Institute to look into the cause, response, and aftermath of the disaster. The Institute’s executive director says a team has been on the ground for the last two weeks to survey the damage and interview survivors, first responders and officials in charge of overseeing the response.

Special Section: Maui Wildfires Disaster

“The attorney general made it very clear that if anything gets uncovered that happens to be criminal or could be, our responsibility is to pass that information on,” said Steve Kerber, of the institute.

Gov. Josh Green said it’s crucial that all elements of the fire be better understood.

“They could find that the fire started from the power lines, they could find that someone started a fire elsewhere, they could find that fire started and then reignited, they could find anything,” the governor said. “And once they do find that we will get their comprehensive reports.”

Kerber hopes to have a timeline ready in three months, which is only the first phase of the investigation. Subsequent portions will look at the response and recommendations.

Several lawsuits have already been filed against Hawaiian Electric in the wake of the Lahaina wildfire, which has left at least 115 people dead. Additionally, more than 300 people are still missing.

Suits against HECO, including one filed by Maui County, accuse the utility of negligence and failing to de-energize its lines despite the known risks. HECO has pushed back against those claims.

Meanwhile on Monday, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said details will be announced soon for families demanding to visit their destroyed properties and businesses in the fire-ravaged town.

“We know people are eager to get back to their businesses, their homes,” Bissen said.

He said as soon as toxic waste clean-up is clean, people will be allowed to return in phases and “look through their property. And then the steps after that will be the debris cleanup.”

The hazardous materials removed from Lahaina will be shipped to the mainland.