UPDATED: The utility says its new safety plan helped crews respond faster to the fire, but the incident raises more concerns about the lack of a power safety shutoff program.

Hawaiian Electric Co. says a wildfire that burned nearly 17 acres and damaged several structures Tuesday on the dry, leeward side of Oahu started after one of its spotters saw a power line fall in that area amid heavy winds.

Fire crews remained on the scene Tuesday night, near 85-1601 Haleahi Road in Waianae Valley, to take care of any flare-ups, according to Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Justin Brownfield. The spokesman said crews had the fire under control.

Earlier in the day, HFD sent 18 units, including fire engines and a helicopter to battle the blaze, according to Fire Capt. Jaimie Song and Hawaiian Electric officials. Late Tuesday, those crews appeared to be helped by scattered rain showers that reached the leeward valley alongside the fierce wind gusts.

Nonetheless, several large chicken coops were destroyed and at least one home was damaged in the fire. The owner of those coops, a man in his 70s, was injured while freeing the chickens and treated by Emergency Medical Services, according to HFD.

Fire crews respond to a 10-acre wildfire in Waianae Valley on Tuesday, after a Hawaiian Electric spotter said he saw a pole fall in that area amid the gusty winds.
Fire and utility crews responded to a 10-acre wildfire in Waianae Valley on Tuesday, after a Hawaiian Electric spotter said he saw a pole fall in that area amid the gusty winds. (Marcel Honore/Civil Beat/2023)

Hawaiian Electric said its spotter was deployed to Waianae under the company’s recently released wildfire safety strategy after a red flag warning had been issued for the area.

The move under its new plan helped HFD respond to the blaze more quickly, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

Still, this latest wildfire incident, some three months after the devastating Lahaina blaze, highlights the growing concerns over Hawaiian Electric’s lack of a so-called public safety power shutoff program to turn off electricity ahead of a severe weather event and further reduce the risk of fires.

Hawaiian Electric’s new wildfire plan includes spotters but stops short of such a shutoff program, and company officials say they’ve only just begun the necessary talks to launch that effort. 

On Tuesday, the company said that it de-energized a second line in Waianae Valley after the fire on Haleahi Road had sparked so that an HFD helicopter could help fight the blaze.

The utility, which powers most of Hawaii, faced withering criticism and multiple lawsuits after it disclosed that it had lacked a shutoff program to cut the electricity ahead of the Aug. 8 fire that destroyed most of Lahaina.

Hawaiian Electric acknowledges that downed power lines sparked a fire the morning of the Lahaina tragedy but asserts that it’s not responsible for the blaze that later swept through Lahaina. That’s because Maui County fire crews had declared that morning fire extinguished, and its power lines had been de-energized for hours by the time the afternoon fire hit, company officials say.

It wasn’t clear when HFD expects to declare the fire on Haleahi Street contained. Many of the crews battling that blaze left Tuesday to fight a separate blaze on Kili Drive in Makaha, Brownfield said.

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