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Friday, July 8, 2005



art
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu firefighters from eight companies responded to a brush fire along Hakimo Road in Nanakuli last month.




Tempers rise
with fire count

Police and fire crews share
residents' frustration over
this year's outbreaks

Waianae resident Tony Delicata is not happy that he and 17 neighbors came close to evacuating their homes because of a raging brush fire yesterday morning.

And he is angry that juveniles could be responsible for setting brush fires throughout the island, endangering homes and residents.

"It's hard for me to believe that all these fires have started naturally, especially this time of the year that the kids are out," said Delicata, whose home on Kawili Street was threatened by a brush fire yesterday. "I'm getting a little bit sick of this, and I'll be looking strongly into pressuring my representatives out here to actually do something about it.

"I can't believe police can't narrow it down to finding those people who are doing this ... and I don't go for this 'Oh, they're just kids' crap.'"

His frustration is shared by police and fire officials, who suspect youngsters have intentionally set the fires.

So far this year, Honolulu police have arrested three juveniles for allegedly starting brush fires. Most recently they arrested a 15-year-old Waianae High School student who allegedly set a fire at Kulaaupuni Street in Maili. The fire consumed about 5,000 square feet Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier this summer a teenager turned himself in to police for a series of small brush fires at Barbers Point. And police arson detectives arrested a 13-year-old boy in May for an 1,800-acre brush fire in Nanakuli.

"We're following up on a lot of leads," Kapolei police Maj. Michael Tamashiro said. "A lot of people in the community are saying they know who has been doing this, but they aren't saying who."

"I don't understand that. ... This district is burning from one end to the other," Tamashiro said about the lack of information.

From Jan. 1 through yesterday, the Honolulu Fire Department responded to 526 brush fires. During the same period last year, they responded to 254 brush fires, and in 2003 they responded to 481 brush fires.

Fire officials suspect a majority of the fires this year have been intentionally set, mostly because there seems to be no other indication on how these fires were started.

"A lot of these locations are remote -- no power lines or electrical, no camping grounds where someone could have left a campfire burning," Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kenison Tejada said. "The fires start in the middle of nowhere."

Maj. Tamashiro said Leeward police are attempting to dissuade potential arsonists with more officers patrolling remote areas where fires are likely to occur. Police also are attempting to plot out the fires and where they have taken place this year, but as soon as they get started, another fire pops up, he said.

"As quickly as we target them, another one takes place," he said. "It's been a real challenge for us, but more so for the firefighters out there."

Tejada said this year has been one of the department's busiest. This week has been the busiest this year. Since Sunday the Fire Department has fought 184 brush fires, including the 350-acre that threatened homes on Kawili Street, nearly triggering an evacuation.

"The police knocked on our door and said get ready," Delicata said. "Then we had a lot of luck, and the wind stopped blowing so forcefully."

Firefighters contained the fire by 4 a.m., but Delicata said it was still too close for comfort.

"We got a beautiful neighborhood, nice people. People work hard over here to keep their places nice," he said. "It's a neighborhood to be proud of. We could have lost this whole row of houses because of this. I'm not real thrilled with that."

Tamashiro is urging residents to remain vigilant and report any suspicious juveniles or adults running away from areas where a fire is reported.

Honolulu Fire Department
www.honolulufire.org
Honolulu Police Department
www.honolulupd.org


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