MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maui's cane harvesting season is being disrupted by a rash of suspicious fires. Authorities are now asking for help with the felony investigation.
Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company's harvesting season started in mid-March, but Maui fire crews have already doused eight unscheduled cane fires from May 19 to June 18.
"We feel that it's time to make a statement because we want to be sure that these fires stop happening because of the safety of the firefighters as well as the community that we serve," said Chief Jeff Murray of the Maui County Fire Department.
Most of the fires took place in easily accessible areas. No one has been hurt, but the fires have charred about 42 acres resulting in an estimated crop loss of $182,500. The largest blaze forced customers and workers to evacuate Mama's Fish House near Paia on Father's Day.
"We just want to discourage that type of activity because at some point, we might not be able to be there on time or it's going to take us away from another emergency that could really use us," Murray said.
The fires are considered suspicious because there are no obvious ignition points, such as downed power lines or campfires.
"Some of them have happened within an hour, multiple incidents within an hour, so it leads us to believe that there's something not right about that," said Murray.
The cases have been classified as first-degree criminal property damage. Some items have been sent to a crime lab as part of the investigation, according to authorities. They're also asking people to report any suspicious activity. Anyone with information is asked to call Maui police at 244-6425.
"They may or may not see it, but they might be the lead that takes us to solve some of these issues and we just want the people to stop because it's impacting a lot of innocent people," said Murray.
The general manager of HC&S issued this statement:
"The series of unscheduled cane fires that has occurred over the last two months is a serious problem. HC&S' number one concern with the fires is the community's general safety and the safety of Maui County's first responders and our HC&S employees who deal directly with the fires. We truly appreciate the County's proactive approach in this matter, and we stand ready to assist our local authorities in any way possible to help find resolution to these dangerous occurrences," said Rick Volner, Jr.
To view an extended interview with Chief Murray, click here to see Maui Now's story.