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Roth: Brush Fire That Closed 2 Kona Highways Hard to Pinpoint on Homeless Camps

By Tom Hasslinger
March 4, 2022, 4:00 PM HST
* Updated March 4, 1:08 PM
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Police officers block Kuakini Highway during a Feb. 16 fire. PC: Tom Hasslinger/Big Island Now

Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth told Big Island Now that it’s difficult to determine an exact cause of a Kailua-Kona brush fire in February that closed two highways and caused the evacuation of multiple neighborhoods.

Roth said this week that while firefighters had confirmed there was some reason to believe that the homeless could have caused the fire, it was too difficult to establish with any certainty.

“Some(one) could have thrown a cigarette from a car, or it could have been a piece of glass acting like a magnifying glass,” Roth told Big Island Now.

Neighbors of the brush fire said at the time that there had been several blazes in the area that they believed were started in the nearby homeless camps that go unchecked, which they also attributed as the reason for the Feb. 16 fire.

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Roth said his office reached out to the owner of the property – listed as Kuakini Highway, LLC, according to county tax records – who said “they are concerned about the situation and plans to fence the property to discourage squatters.”

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“In addition, the owner said there are archaeological features of concern to him, which has made it challenging to manage the lot,” the mayor said.

A representative from the company couldn’t be reached on Friday.

The Hawaiʻi Fire Department began battling the brush fire around mid-morning that day between Queen Kaʻahumanu Highway and Kuakini Highway, near the University of Nations. The fire prompted evacuations of the Kona Hillcrest subdivision and the Pottery Terrace Industrial Area. No injuries were reported, and the fire closed down both highways for multiple hours while firefighters fought it. Some neighbors took garden hoses to spray back encroaching flames from their property lines.

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Neighbors also said at the time it was the third or fourth fire that occurred that week, and a large fire two weeks prior disturbed residents in the middle of the night while responders extinguished it.

Roth said the owner informed the mayor’s office that the large parcel of land shouldn’t remain undeveloped for too long, as it is slated to house an assisted living establishment in the near future.

“Again, we have reached out to the owner, who said he has had a few road bumps but is confident he will soon start construction on a much-needed assisted living facility on the property,” Roth 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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