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Fire Chief: No Connection in Weekend House Fires

By Tom Hasslinger
January 26, 2022, 6:28 AM HST
* Updated January 26, 6:51 AM
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A string of three house fires in the Kailua-Kona area in the span of approximately 18 hours over the weekend was coincidental, and nothing too unusual, The Hawai‘i Fire Chief confirmed.

One of the fires was determined to have been started by an electrical issue, while the other two were ruled to be undetermined. The timing of all three occurring between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning was happenstance, Fire Chief Kazuo Todd told Big Island Now.

“We don’t have any relation,” Todd said. “There’s no connection to any of the three.”

Around 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, Jan. 21, a home off Royal Poinciana Drive in Kailua-Kona burned to the ground, suffering a $400,000 loss. Also on Friday afternoon, around the same time, a home off Māmalahoa Highway across from the KTA Express in Kealakekua burned down as well. The loss was estimated at $175,000. Then, around 7:30 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 22, another fire started in a home on One Road in Holualoa. That fire started due to an electrical issue, and was contained to one room in the house before firefighters extinguished it. The home suffered $10,000 in damages and was still inhabitable, whereas the Friday blazes destroyed their dwellings.

“It was everything she had,” Paul Atanes said of what his sister lost in the Kealakekua fire.

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Atanes owned the home on Māmalahoa Highway, one of three dwellings where his family resides next to one another. His sister was on O‘ahu at the time of the fire, but Atanes’s wife and brother were home at the time and noticed the smoke and flames, rushed out of the home and called 911. When Paul, who had been at work, learned it was his home, he tried to get there as quickly as he could, but traffic was backed up, so he watched the black smoke billowing into the sky from his car. Finally, he turned on his four-way flashers and tried to drive on the other side of the road to get the rest of the way home, but got into an accident, where he had to wait for police officers to respond.

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“I was stuck there,” he said. “There were no police with everything going on.”

By the time he made it home, firefighters had the fire contained. What was left of his sister’s one-bed, one-bath house was soot and rubble.

“They were still shaking,” he said of his family.

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Atanes said everyone is doing better now, and they are organizing teams to clean up the site. He said the family suspects it was an electrical issue that caused it, as the home was very old.

Todd, a longtime fire investigator before being named chief last year, said fires are classified into one of four categories: natural, accidental, arson, undetermined. Undetermined is how they are classified if evidence proving any of the other three isn’t conclusive. He said it isn’t uncommon for unrelated fires to occur within a short time span of one another, just like in any other business, where activity can seem to come in waves at times.

“It’s not that unusual,” he said.

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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