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Burying Power Lines Prevents Wildfires. But There’s a Cost

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Not long after the deadliest wildfire in modern American history swept through Lahaina, Maui, on August 8, speculation began swirling about a notorious igniter of out-of-control blazes: electrical equipment. 

Although investigators have yet to officially determine the cause of the wildfire, witnesses reported power poles snapping in the 60-mile-an-hour winds that were pouring down the nearby mountains, showering dried vegetation in sparks. And last week, the County of Maui hit Hawaiian Electric with a lawsuit, accusing the utility of neglecting its duty to power down its infrastructure, given the known risk of such high winds sparking wildfires. 

On Sunday, the utility responded with a press release, saying that at 6:30 am, a morning fire “appears to have been caused by power lines that fell in high winds.” Firefighters extinguished that blaze, the press release continues, but another fire popped up in the same area at about 3 pm, when the utility says its lines had been de-energized for more than six hours. That fire then spread into Lahaina. 

“Hawaiian Electric has now…

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