Being reckless with fire can cost you

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the past couple of weeks, we've witnessed some pretty extensive brushfires burning across Oahu. Investigators say most, if not all, of these highly visible fires have been intentionally set. While there's no evidence they are the work of a serial arsonist, officials do point out the difficulty in solving these types of cases.

"Unfortunately, there's a problem with people setting fires," says Honolulu Fire Department spokesman, Capt. Terry Seelig.

HFD can see one or two cases of intentionally-set fires each month. Fortunately, most are small - in dumpsters or rubbish piles. For bigger cases, HFD has a total of six specialized investigators. Seelig says, "We're just looking at where the fire started and how."

Once they figure that out, police get the second part of the case, the whodunnit. Then, it goes to the courts where there are four categories of arson. The first three are defined as intentional - where someone knowingly or recklessly ignites a fire that burns property and endangers lives.

If damage exceeds $20,000, it's considered first degree arson, a class-A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Damage over $1,500 makes it second degree arson, a class-B felony with a maximum 10 years. Third degree arson - with damage exceeding $500 - can be up to five years behind bars. Lastly, fourth degree arson - an intentional fire that just burns property - is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year. But the first step in the process goes back to that fire investigation

Seelig says, "What they're looking at is a snapshot of what happened. They have to recognize the cause and effect patterns of fire in the building or the fuel that it burned through. It's not an easy crime to solve."

HFD can also request restitution for its services in putting out any intentionally-set fire.

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