“The power goes out, our generator kicks in, the camera comes back online, and then the forest is on fire.”
At that exact moment, 10 sensors in Makawao, a small, rural town in the East Maui region of Upcountry — where the Conservation Center is located — recorded a significant incident in Hawaiian Electric’s grid, according to data from Whisker Labs, a company that uses an advanced sensor network to monitor grids across the United States. The bright light in the video was probably an “arc flash,” something that happens when a power line “faults” — meaning it has come in contact with vegetation or another line, or gets knocked down, releasing power, usually through sparks, according to a Whisker Labs official and other experts.
The fire in Makawao was the first of several reported on Maui last week, and this is the first time an electrical malfunction caught on video has been directly correlated with data confirming that Hawaiian Electric’s power system experienced a major problem at the same time.
It adds to evidence that the state’s main utility equipment sparked multiple fires last week, when powerful winds — predicted for days — whipped through drought-stricken grasslands. While the still-burning Makawao fire had nothing to do with the blaze that roared into Lahaina, it was one of several fires sparked on Aug. 7 and 8. At least one of those exploded into the blaze that roared into Lahaina, overwhelming residents, tourists and firefighters.