Investigators: fire at Buti-Groove intentionally set

BJ Sabate
BJ Sabate
Amber Boll
Amber Boll
Capt. Terry Seelig
Capt. Terry Seelig

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Investigators say a fire that broke out at a Honolulu T-shirt business early Friday morning was intentionally set.

The owner says his store -- which carries shirts featuring our new, Hawaii-born president -- may be closed for a month.

About 30 firefighters surround a small shop on Piikoi Street after putting out the flames that broke out at about 1:20 am.

"All my friends called me up and said, 'Eh, your store's on fire,'" BJ Sabate, store owner, said. "So I came down here and it was just a zoo."

Daylight reveals the damage to Buti-Groove, which boasts several Barack Obama T-shirt designs. Sabate walks near broken glass and charred clothing, and calculates his loss.

"We pretty much gotta re-paint everything," he said.

He says even the merchandise that wasn't burned smells like smoke and must be thrown out.

"It's terrible," Amber Boll, store employee, said. "This is like our second home. It's a family store, you know. It's just really terrible what happened."

Fire investigators say this was no accident.

"Their conclusion was that this appears to be intentionally set," Capt. Terry Seelig, Honolulu Fire Department, said.

The store has suffered property damage before. But Sabate doesn't believe it has anything to do with his political T-shirts.

"This area just has a lot of night-time activity and people get drunk," he said. "They have fun, get a little crazy. Stuff like this happens."

He says he'll continue to sell merchandise online while the store is closed for repairs.

"It could have been worse. It could have been at Christmas," Sabate joked.

Fire officials estimate the flames caused $20,000 in damage to the cement structure and $75,000 to its contents.

"If this thing was made out of wood, this whole thing would be gone," Sabate said.

The fire department has turned the case over to police for further investigation.