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Overgrown Vegetation in Utility Corridor Probed in Hawaii Wildfire Probe
Investigators are focused on a densely overgrown gully under Hawaiian Electric power lines as a potential source of the devastating Maui wildfire that killed over 90 people in October 2022. Debris photographed in the uncultivated corridor offers clues into how an initial small blaze could reignite hours later into an inferno.
The gully contained thick vegetation and trash that was tinder dry amid drought, despite being in a recognized high fire risk zone. Aerial images show the utility right-of-way choked with unchecked growth exceeding 10 feet tall, even after the fire.
Experts say such hazardous fuel loads could harbor embers for hours before rekindling in strong winds. Photos show investigators examining burnt remains in the gully, including a hollowed, charred utility pole stump that could stay hot for weeks and ignite regrowth.
Untrimmed Corridor Contradicts Fire Prevention Standards
While utilities are only required to clear vegetation touching lines, fire scientists urge proactive removal of excess fuels in risky areas. But Hawaiian Electric admitted it cannot enter private land it doesn't own.
Critics contend the company still failed to mitigate hazards in its corridor despite knowing the fire history. The overrun gully indicates neglected maintenance, contradicting fire prevention.
How the Devastating Blaze Unfolded Twice
The wildfire initially ignited when strong winds toppled Hawaiian Electric power poles. Responding firefighters extinguished it after a few acres burned. But 36 minutes after departing, the blaze mysteriously revived and exploded out of control.
The focus is on what transpired in the corridor during that window. Investigators are analyzing debris possibly harboring residual embers before extreme gusts created a blowtorch effect. The area's vegetation provided ample fuel for the small ignition to erupt into a sweeping maelstrom of flames.
Electric Company Faces Negligence Claims Over Blaze
With over $5 billion in damages, Hawaiian Electric faces mass lawsuits alleging negligence for not shutting off power preemptively in high winds and failing to maintain its territory safely.
The company counters it couldn't be liable for any later restart since it cut power earlier. But its history of deficient vegetation management still invites scrutiny after Hawaii's deadliest wildfire.
Utility Had Years of Citation for Deficient Brush Clearance
Records indicate Hawaiian Electric has long lagged on meeting grid maintenance goals, with hazardous amounts of vegetation near equipment. A 2020 audit gave its approach dismal ratings.
Regulators have also criticized its slow pace replacing aged poles. The disaster has prompted self-review of past deficiencies that may have accelerated the inferno.
Embers Can Smolder for Weeks in Combustible Debris
Fire experts emphasize large stumps and debris can retain heat for extended periods with ample fuel. Embers then ignite fresh kindling.
Investigators are focused on what materials in the overgrown ravine could have incubated embers overnight. Wind gusts then exponentially multiplied the revived flames.
Preventing Future Wildfires Requires Proactive Land Stewardship
Critics argue the Maui catastrophe demonstrates the need for more proactive vegetation mitigation beyond minimum compliance, especially given climate change.
Stricter regulations on fire preparedness for electric utilities and property owners are likely after Hawaii's enormously costly wake-up call. Being a good environmental steward requires responsibly managing brush and fuels.
Scientists say actively maintaining land to remove excess hazardous growth could have moderated this tragedy. But liability arguments continue in court over who bore ultimate responsibility.
Better risk assessment and prevention is now imperative with climate impacting fire seasons worldwide. Disaster teaches hard lessons if they propel reform.
The Maui wildfire's cause remains under investigation but already spotlights prevention opportunities. With climate escalating wildfire risks, officials urge understanding what fueled this tragedy to avoid replications.
Power companies must reassess equipment vulnerabilities and vegetation clearance rigor while improving outage response. Insurers will compel mitigation by factoring safety into premiums.
Maui's recovery is just beginning but the state can lead on improved practices to adapt to its fiery future. The stakes are too high not to absorb difficult lessons here in reshaping Hawaii's culture of preparedness.
With climate escalating hazards, demanding accountability is crucial but looking forward equally vital so emergent threats don't eclipse action. The sweeping fire's traumatized community deserves both justice and commitment to limiting recurrences.
There are no simple villains in tragedies, only complex causal factors that demand unraveling to foster change. Maui's road to rebuilding must follow understanding the fuel that enabled disaster.
Human wisdom lies in illuminating the past to chart wiser courses ahead. The work here is hardly done, but shifting disaster's aftermath from despair towards possibility is humanity's gift if vision emerges from darkness. With vigilance and moral imagination, even a scarred landscape can regenerate - and so can we all.
Summarised from the original article by - apnews.com
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