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Seventh suspicious fire reported along Mamalahoa Highway, fire chief urges public to remain vigilant

December 6, 2013 - 10:24pm

Another brush fire deemed suspicious in nature was reported Friday off Highway 190 in North Kona prompting Hawaii County Fire Department Fire Chief Darren Rosario and others to again ask for the public’s help to put an end to the intentionally set fires.

“They’re all suspicious in nature and probably intentionally set,” Rosario told West Hawaii Today Friday afternoon. “The likelihood of these fires starting for a natural reason is unlikely. It points more to a fire that was intentionally set.”

The most recent fire was reported at 6:39 a.m. Friday on the makai side of the highway, near mile marker 16, according to the department. The fire burned approximately 3 acres before firefighters were able to extinguish it. No structures were threatened.

The Friday morning fire, which Rosario said was preliminarily deemed suspicious in nature, is the latest in a series of seven suspicious brush fires he said appear to have been intentionally set along the highway between mile marker 14 in South Kohala and mile marker 24 in North Kona. The series of fires began Nov. 25 and at least 654 total acres of vacant land have been scorched.

“We are asking the public to help us out and report anything they see as suspicious — anything” Rosario said, noting specifically for people to be aware of parked vehicles and other suspicious behavior. “For brush fires being intentionally set our biggest asset is people calling in suspicious vehicles — that way the police can follow up.”

Hawaii County Police Department officers and fire department investigators, who are using scent-discriminating K-9 units to determine if an accelerant is being used, are continuing to investigate the fires, he said.

He added the department’s investigators have not determined if any or all of the seven fires are connected and if they are being set by one or more individuals.

Hawaii County Police Department Area II Criminal Investigations Section Capt. Chad Basque said Friday that police are investigating all tips that are coming in from the public, but have yet to form any solid leads in the case. He encouraged people to continue being vigilant and report any suspicious activity or knowledge about the fires to police.

“We’re really depending on the public’s help,” he said. “They really are our eyes and ears on the road for us.”

Lisa Hadway, Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife Hawaii Island Branch manager, also on Friday pleaded to the public to provide information about the fires occurring on state land within the Puuanahulu Game Management Area and Puuwaawaa Dry Forest. She said the fires are not only impacting activities for the public, but are posing a threat to the dry forest, native species and watershed.

“These fires have the potential to have a big impact on the area,” she said. “We’re really hopeful someone will call.”

Anyone who witnesses suspicious activity in the area is asked to call the police department’s nonemergency line at 935-3311. Anyone with information on the fires should call Detective Levon Stevens at 326-4646, ext. 275, or Crime Stoppers at 329-8181 in Kona or 961-8300 in Hilo. All Crime Stoppers information is kept confidential.

Here is a list of fires deemed suspicious in nature that burned acreage off Mamalahoa Highway since Nov. 25. Included is the date and time reported, location of the blaze and estimated acreage burned.

- Nov. 25 at 3:33 p.m., mile marker 14, 500 acres

- Nov. 26 at 3:54 p.m., mile marker 16, 150 acres

- Nov. 26 shortly after 4 p.m., mile marker 23, 1/4 acre

- Nov. 28 at 5:50 a.m., mile marker 16, burn area undetermined

- Monday at 4:23 p.m., mile marker 24, 2,000 square feet

- Wednesday at 6:28 a.m., mile marker 17, 4,800 square feet

- Friday at 6:39 a.m., mile marker 16, 3 acres

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