Lawsuit against company called ‘factually and legally irresponsible’
Shares of Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. skyrocketed Monday after the electric company responded to a lawsuit filed by Maui County over the deadly Lahaina fires, by calling the suit “factually and legally irresponsible.”
The company said that a fire in the area at 6:30 a.m. local time on Aug. 8 appeared to be caused by power lines that fell in high winds. The Maui County Fire Department, which responded to that fire, had declared that the fire had been “extinguished,” and the fire department left the scene by 2 p.m.
Then at about 3 p.m., after the Hawaiian Electric power lines had been “de-energized” for more than six hours, a second fire began in the same area, with the cause of that fire still not determined.
Hawaiian Electric’s stock HE, +44.62% soared 43.4% in afternoon trading, which put it on track for its largest one-day percentage increase on record. A close in the black would snap a three-day losing streak, in which the stock shed 27.7%.
On Friday, the stock tumbled 18.6% to $9.66, the lowest close since Oct. 17, 1984, after the company said it had suspended its dividend. The stock has plunged 72.8% since Aug. 8, while the S&P 500 index SPX has slipped 2.1% over the same time.
“We were surprised and disappointed that the County of Maui rushed to court even before completing its own investigation. We believe the complaint is factually and legally irresponsible,” said Hawaiian Electric Chief Executive Shelee Kimura.
“Unfortunately, the county’s lawsuit may leave us no choice in the legal system but to show its responsibility for what happened that day,” Kimura added.
The company said records “conclusively establish” that its power lines in Lahaina were not energized when the afternoon fire broke out in a field by the Lahaina Intermediate School.
The company said the crew members that making repairs at the site of the morning fire called 911 to report the “small fire” they saw about 75 yards away, the afternoon fire.
“By the time the Maui County Fire Department arrived back on the scene, it was not able to contain the afternoon fire and it spread out of control toward Lahaina,” Hawaiian Electric said in a statement.