Devastating wildfires that have claimed more than a hundred lives and destroyed swaths of the Hawaiian island of Maui may have been caused by a tree falling on power lines.
Security video shared by a bird sanctuary in Maui captured a flash of light around 11pm local time on 7 August, followed by a bright flame that continued to burn.
The new footage has emerged as key evidence pointing to fallen utility lines as the possible cause of the wildfires, The Associated Press reported.
Jennifer Pribble, a senior research coordinator at the Maui Bird Conservation Center, gave more information about the video that was posted on Hawaii’s Department of Land Natural Resources Instagram account.
“I think that is when a tree is falling on a power line,” Ms Pribble said. “The power goes out, our generator kicks in, the camera comes back online, and then the forest is on fire.”
Pribble explained that she tried to contain the fire, but the flames jumped and quickly turned into one of the many wildfires that have recently devastated the region.
“I grabbed two fire extinguishers and we put out the fire on the edge of the property here,” Ms Pribble said. “Then ran back inside, grabbed more fire extinguishers, garden hoses, whatever I could find and we went out and were just trying to contain it as best we could.”
Hawaii is experiencing its dry season and combined with invasive grasses that are highly flammable, vegetation quickly caught on fire causing the fires to spread.
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At the same time, it was reported that 10 sensors in the small town of Makawao, near the conservation center, recorded a major incident in the power grid, according to data from Whisker Labs shows.
Experts have said the bright light in the video was most likely an “arc flash” – which is something that happens when a power line “faults.” The line “faults” when it is knocked down, or collides with something, releasing power that causes sparks.
“This is strong confirmation — based on real data — that utility grid faults were likely the ignition source for multiple wildfires on Maui,” Bob Marshall, founder and CEO of Whisker Labs, told The Washington Post.
Shane Treu also shared a video online of what experts believe might have been the first moments of the wildfires.
He told The Associated Press he saw a wooden power pole snap and the power lines falling to the dry grass below.
“I heard ‘buzz, buzz,’” Mr Treu recalled. “It was almost like somebody lit a firework. It just ran straight up the hill to a bigger pile of grass and then, with that high wind, that fire was blazing.”
Meanwhile, the Hawaiian Electric Co. faces criticism for not shutting off the power amid high wind warnings and keeping it on even as dozens of poles began to topple.
“Hawaiian Electric is committed to being here for our Maui ohana and for all of the community, no matter how long it takes,” Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO, said Tuesday.
“We’re working closely with state and county emergency management teams who prioritized critical circuits for restoration, including those serving stores, pharmacies, gas stations, county water, wastewater and public safety facilities.”
The death toll from the wildfires reached 106 on Tuesday, but officials expect that number to increase as searchers sift through the toxic rubble.
Only five of the deceased have so far been identified because the remains have been left unrecognisable by the blaze, according to Maui County officials. About 1,000 people are still missing.