(NEWSnet/AP) — In the first moments of the Maui fires, when high wind brought down power poles, slapping electrified wires to the dry grass below, there was a reason flame erupted all at once, in long rows: wires were bare, uninsulated metal that could spark on contact.

Video and images analyzed by The Associated Press confirmed those wires were among miles of line that Hawaiian Electric Company left naked, despite a recent push by utilities in other wildfire- and hurricane-prone areas to cover lines or bury them.

Compounding the problem: Many of the utility’s 60,000, mostly wooden, power poles, which the company’s documents describe as built to an “obsolete 1960s standard,” were leaning and near the end of their projected lifespan. They are not close to meeting a 2002 national standard that key components of Hawaii’s electrical grid must be able to withstand 105-mph wind. A 2019 filing said it had fallen behind in replacing the old wooden poles because of other priorities and warned of a “serious public hazard” if they failed.

It’s “very unlikely” a fully-insulated cable would have sparked and caused a fire in dry vegetation, said Michael Ahern, who retired this month as director of power systems at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

Hawaiian Electric said in a statement that it has “long recognized the unique threats" from climate change and has spent millions of dollars in response, but did not say whether specific power lines that collapsed in the fire were bare.

“We've been executing on a resilience strategy to meet these challenges, and since 2018, we have spent approximately $950 million to strengthen and harden our grid and approximately $110 million on vegetation management efforts,” the company said. “This work included replacing more than 12,500 poles and structures since 2018 and trimming and removing trees along approximately 2,500 line miles every year on average.”

Hawaiian Electric faces several lawsuits that seek to hold it responsible for the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.

It was a “preventable tragedy of epic proportions,” said attorney Paul Starita, lead counsel on three of the lawsuits.

“It all comes back to money,” said Starita, of the California firm Singleton Schreiber. “They might say, oh, well, it takes a long time to get the permitting process done or whatever. OK, start sooner. I mean, people’s lives are on the line. You’re responsible. Spend the money, do your job.”

Hawaiian Electric also faces criticism for not shutting off power amid high wind warnings and keeping it on even as dozens of poles began to topple. Maui County sued Hawaiian Electric in connection with that issue.

Other utilities have been addressing the issue of bare wire. Pacific Gas & Electric was found responsible for the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California that killed 85 people. The disaster was caused by downed power lines.

Michael Jacobs, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said with power lines causing so many fires in the United States: “We definitely have a new pattern, we just don’t have a new safety regime to go with it.”

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