By Frank Fang
A sensor and data technology company said that power grid malfunctions could likely be the cause of Maui wildfires in Hawaii.
Bob Marshall, the founder and CEO of Whisker Labs, said data from the company’s sensors suggested that there were dozens of power grid malfunctions, which likely caused multiple fires, according to Hawaii News Now. The sensors, called Ting by the company, had been distributed to homeowners by insurance companies to prevent household electrical hazards, according to the outlet.
“If you look at the Ting data, all the sensors in that area. Ten sensors. Measured at that very instant a sharp drop in voltage. That is the actual fault occurring on the electrical grid,” Marshall told the outlet.
An electrical fault is an abnormal condition in a power system or equipment. Some common causes include lightning strikes, transformer failures and faults, and fallen power polls.
Mr. Marshall referred to a recent Instagram video showing a fire captured by the security camera of the Maui Bird Conservation Center in the eastern region of Upcountry at around 11 p.m. local time on Aug. 7. In the video, Jennifer Pribble, a senior research coordinator at the center, explained how the fire might have been caused by a fallen tree on a power line.
“Any of those faults just like you see in the video from the bird sanctuary are likely to cause an arc or a spark,” Marshall said. “That means there’s molten shards of hot metal falling to the ground.”
Between Aug. 7 and Aug. 8, Mr. Marshall said 78 Ting sensors on Maui detected 122 faults on the island’s electrical grid.
“And that’s not normal at all,” Mr. Marshall said. “There’s typically not more than a few faults on any given day on Maui. So this was definitely a result of the winds.”
The Maui fire, which has scorched areas including Kula, Olinda Lahaina, and Pulehu, has claimed the lives of at least 114 people.
Mr. Marshall said the power grid in Lahaina was under tremendous stress.
“Just looking at the sensors in Lahaina there were 34 faults measured between the 11 o’clock Monday (night) time frame and the 5 a.m. time period when they went offline. And those were increasing in frequency and severity,” he said.
For the fire in Kula, Mr. Marshall said, “We have direct video evidence that there was a large arch flash, it corresponds to a fault on the grid.”
He added that power grid problems could play a role in Lahaina’s fire.
“Any of the other faults could have sparked a wildfire,” he explained. “So I think given everything we know, it’s likely the case.”
Hawaiian Electric declined to comment when reached by the outlet asking about Mr. Marshall’s comments.
“Our immediate focus is on restoring power for our customers, supporting Maui residents, and developing a long-term recovery plan. Given the amount of work we have underway, we are not in a position to comment on each one of these issues at this time,” the agency said.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green delivered an emotional address on Friday, emphasizing that Lahaina will be rebuilt.
“Lahaina will rise again—it will be a symbol of our resilience, our values, and our sacred bonds of ohana,” Mr. Green said. “When it is rebuilt, it will be a living memorial to the loved ones we have lost, the native Hawaiian culture that founded it centuries ago, and the values that will enable us to endure this tragedy and flourish again, like the great banyan tree that survived the fire and still stands among the ruins today.”
He thanked federal agencies for the support that Maui has received, particularly extending thanks to President Joe Biden.
“From the first hours of the disaster, he offered every resource to aid our response, immediately ordering the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy 3rd Fleet to support our rescue and relief efforts, and issuing a Presidential Disaster Declaration within hours of our request,” Mr. Green said.
President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are scheduled to visit Maui on Aug. 21.