Hawaii authorities fight back against firebugs - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Hawaii authorities fight back against firebugs

HFD Capt. Terry Seelig HFD Capt. Terry Seelig
HPD Det. Rommel Baysa HPD Det. Rommel Baysa
Michael Dahilig Michael Dahilig

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Arson fires can be costly and sometimes even deadly. This is Arson Week and local authorities are asking for help to cut down on the crime.

Arson fires claimed two lives in the last couple of years. 97-year-old Betty Hagihara died in March 2012 in a blaze at her Pearl City home. Michael Dahilig confessed to using a blowtorch to burglarize her property. A year earlier, a fire deliberately set at a Liliha boardinghouse killed 78-year-old Clarence Isobe. Dealing with arson blazes can be especially difficult.

"It's done with the intention to cause some problems often and accelerants can be used and other means that can spread the fires quickly," said Battalion Chief Socrates Bratakos of the Honolulu Fire Department.

"The fire department, when they go and fight the fire, they're risking their lives. We're putting their lives in jeopardy with these type of crimes," said Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro.

While police identified suspects in both cases, most intentionally set fires are never solved. Each month, HPD handles roughly 20 arson investigations, but only makes one or two arrests. Most of the cases don't involve homes.

"Finding the intent or state of mind of a person that committed a crime is kind of tricky, and that's where our witnesses come in, our evidence comes in," explained Det. Rommel Baysa of the Honolulu Police Department.

Authorities said statistically, juveniles are behind a lot of the arson cases. According to experts, the fires are sparked for different reasons.

"Six motivations for arson are curiosity, excitement, concealment of a crime, arson for profit or insurance fraud, revenge and vandalism."

Arson was involved in about 13% of all major residential fires on Oahu last year, according to HFD. Investigators encourage people to call 911 if they see any suspicious activity.

"Vigilance is essential. Be aware of your surroundings. Look at your property and try to see if there's ways that you can reduce the risk of a fire beginning," said Capt. Terry Seelig of the Honolulu Fire Department.


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