Kapolei brush fires considered ‘suspicious,’ why so few cases lead to arrests

Local News

Fire officials say multiple brush fires that sparked in Kapolei Monday evening appear to be intentionally set. The initial call came in at 6:28 p.m.

Upon arrival, firefighters found three separate fires along the eastbound lanes of the H-1 Freeway, from the Makakilo on-ramp to just before the North-South off-ramp.

They were extinguished by 7:12 p.m. Each one was under 1.5 acres in size. No one was hurt, no property was damaged and no roads were closed.

The cause remains under investigation, but fire officials say they appear to be suspicious in nature because of their proximity.

If you have any information or saw anything before, during or after the fires, call police.

Hawaii’s arson law changed in 2006, creating stiffer penalties for brush fires that were intentionally set.

But when we dug into our archives, we found fewer than a handful of cases that led to arrests, and even fewer convictions.

In the last five years, the Honolulu Fire Department fought more than 2,000 wildfires. Of that, 1,389 fires were considered “undetermined” and 256 were found “intentional.”

Few end up with the fire-starter behind bars.

“It seems to be relatively infrequent,” said former Honolulu prosecuting attorney Peter Carlisle. “There are plenty of fires intentionally set, but they’re difficult to prove because nobody saw what, when and how it started.”

In 2009, ex-firefighter Kenton Leong confessed to starting at least two brush fires in East Oahu. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In 2013, a man was charged with arson for allegedly starting brush fires in Nanakuli. However, when we called the Honolulu prosecutor’s office, it had no record of that case.

Officials say for justice to be served, prosecutors need evidence.

“We ask the public to report to police if they saw anything suspicious, before, during or after a brush fire. If they saw a car driving away, if they saw someone throw something into the bushes, we want people to report that,” said Capt. David Jenkins with Honolulu Fire Department.

“It would be extremely important whether you saw somebody running or the size of the person… Those types of things are very, very helpful,” said Carlisle.

Hawaii’s first arson law was meant to fight the annual rash of summer wildfires and hold the arsonist accountable for the costs of extinguishing the fire.

Charges include jail time and steep fines up to $50,000.

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