Tough Penalties Likely Ahead for Convicted Fire Starters

(KHNL)  Brush fires along the Waianae coast are a common sight in the summer months. Some say they're too common.

"There was a time they said at the end of school kids will pull some prank it became some ongoing thing, but this year it went completely out of hand," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, Senate Judiciary chairwoman.

State lawmakers want to fight fire with fire, cracking down on anyone who intentionally starts a brush fire.

Currently, there is no specific law against setting brush fires. A new proposal calls for making it a low-level felony offense.

"It's ridiculous, not only the health considerations, the damage," Hanabusa said. "We were very fortunate, I believe, we didn't have any deaths as a result of these."

Environmental groups support stricter penalties. Last year fires threatened protected plants and animals in the range operated by the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii.

"There are actually more than 90 threatened and endangered plant and animal species in that range," said Mark Fox, Nature Conservancy director of external affairs.

Environmentalists say these kinds of fires can be especially dangerous in Hawaii since brush fires are not part of the natural process in the islands.

"If you start a brush fire in Hawaii and it gets up into the forest, that burns down native tree species and creates an avenue for more invasive and more flammable grasses to take their place," Fox said.