Big Island Polls

Big Island Now poll results: Fatal dog mauling, fires, Uncle Billy’s hotel demolition top 2023 news stories

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Reflecting back on 2023, the Big Island saw progress and devastation, from the planned demolition of Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel and the scheduling of road projects for the 2018 Kīlauea eruption recovery to fatal dog attacks and scary wildfires.

According to Google Analytics, the most viewed story on Big Island Now was in August when Hawai‘i Island firefighters battled blazes in North and South Kohala with 243,839 views.

According to the latest Big Island Now poll, the top story of the year was the dog mauling in Ocean View, where 71-year-old Robert Northrop was killed.

Hawai‘i Island police chief Ben Moszkowicz wasn’t surprised by the poll results saying the violent dog attack was a tragic story about an innocent victim killed in a horrific way.

“It also speaks to the dangerous dog situation that many in the Big Island community have been living with for a long time,” the chief said.

Hawai‘i Island fires captured the second-most poll votes. In August, the Akoni Pule Fire in South Kohala Ranch burned approximately 1,000 acres and the Mauna Kea Beach fire scorched approximately 500 acres within the Mauna Kea Beach Resort and threatening property and destroying a utility building.

A brush fire caused smoke to roll across Mauna Kea Beach Drive on Aug. 8, 2023. (Screen shot)

Firefighters also contained a smaller blaze in Waimea while battling these larger fires.

At the same time on Maui, a brush fire, fueled by the same winds powering flames on the Big Island fires, decimated the old Hawaiian fishing village of Lāhainā, killing at least 100 people to become the deadliest U.S. fire in modern history.

Hawai‘i County fire Chief Kazuo Todd said it’s not surprising that fires were a top focus of 2023: “Prior to our August fires, we’d already been pre-prepping for events, getting personnel trained and clearing debris. When you look at Lāhainā, there is no amount of resources that could’ve stopped that fire. There’s no catching up. That’s an eye-opener.”

Going into 2024, Todd aims to better work with the Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization on educating the community about how to protect property from fire by reducing hazards. This includes clearing invasive grass and shrubbery around properties. The organization runs the FireWise program that engages communities on wildfire prevention. Click here to learn more.

“It’s not enough to hope that the communities are going to come together on their own,” Todd said. “There has to be an active effort on the fire department’s part.”


The chief added residents of Hawai‘i Island have a responsibility to keep everyone safe: “Your property, your community and your kuleana (responsibility).”

Hawai‘i County also has seen progress on long-awaited projects, including the demolition of the once iconic Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel, which was voted as the third biggest story of the year.

A view of the outside of the former Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel following the recent removal of overgrown vegetation at the property. (Photo courtesy of the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources)

After sitting abandoned and in disrepair for years, an emergency proclamation was issued by Hawaiʻi Gov. Josh Green in July that provided relief for damages, losses and suffering — and protected the health, safety and welfare of people affected by the hazardous conditions of the hotel.

Hawai‘i County Council member Sue Lee Loy, who represents portions of South Hilo and Kea‘au, said over the past year, Hawai‘i Island police and fire were able to capture data that showed the area was a magnet for unlawful activity, crime, drug dealing and arson.

Lee Loy said the community made their voices heard and the demolition of the building is now on track for 2024.


Another big story was the recovery strides that finally were being made from the 2018 Kīlauea eruption, which destroyed roads, the Pohoiki Boat Ramp and property.

Council member Ashley Kierkiewicz, who represents lower Puna and Pāhoa, said after five years the Federal Emergency Management Agency finally gave the go-ahead to the county to start working on road projects.

The county will first tackle the lava-inundated Pohoiki Road, Highway 137 and a water line project. The road work will reopen nine miles of roadway and fix nearly eight miles of waterlines buried under lava during the eruption. Restoration is on track to break ground in the first quarter of 2024.

Also in 2024, the councilwoman said the goal is to repair the Pohoiki Boat Ramp, which will once again give local fishermen access to the ocean and important fishing grounds.

The poll results:

Total Votes: 430

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