East Hawaii News

Arson Suspected in Burning of Controversial Puna Home

May 12, 2014, 7:21 PM HST
* Updated May 13, 4:40 PM
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Police have begun an arson investigation into a fire that destroyed a controversial home in Kalapana Seaview Estates this morning.

Firefighters from the Pahoa Fire Station arriving at the home at 12-7037 Akanikolea St. at 9:40 a.m. found the unpermitted, three-story building engulfed in flames.

Norma Jean Ream, who lives on Mapuana Avenue, the coastal Puna subdivision’s main road, said she called 911 after hearing what sounded like muted explosions and loud voices from the scene.

A witness said the flames progressed downward. Photo courtesy Hans Rainer Hemken/HRH Photography.

A witness said the flames progressed downward. Photo courtesy Hans Rainer Hemken/HRH Photography.

Ream said the fire appeared to start at the top of the structure.

“We went out and the top of the house was high in flames,” she said. “It burned its way down.”

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Ream said her son overheard a young man telling authorities that he rented the top of the building to store items that included ammunition and a propane tank. He reportedly also lost a computer and other belongings in the fire.

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The home had drawn the ire of some Seaview residents because of its ramshackle appearance.

It was also the subject of a January 2012 newspaper article which said neighbors of the home were critical of the county for not doing more to force the owner of the building, currently listed as Charles Collins, to adhere to county building codes.

Photo Courtesy Hans Rainer Hemken/HRH Photography.

Photo Courtesy Hans Rainer Hemken/HRH Photography.

In the article, officials with the county’s Building Division said they were following procedures. At the time that included sending the landowner three certified letters about the need to obtain permits for the construction.

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The third letter, sent in October 2011, reportedly assessed a fine of $50 and threatened daily fines of the same amount as long as the owner was not in compliance.

The county at that time said it was considering additional sanctions, which could include daily fines of up to $1,000.

County property records available today online list only one permit issued for the 7,500-square-foot lot. That permit, issued in 1997, was for a 272-square-foot “storage/workshop” with an estimated cost of $5,000.

The home as it previously looked in this undated Google Earth view.

The home as it previously looked in this undated Google Earth view.

For 2014, the county had placed an assessed value of $29,700 on the building.

Ream said she was among what she believed were probably many Seaview residents glad to see the building gone.

“I was always afraid a piece of metal or something else might blow off it,” she said.

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