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Police: Surveillance video shows arson suspect testing lighter before Waikiki blaze

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 3:39 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 21, 2021 at 5:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Surveillance video obtained by police shows the man charged in the large Waikiki surf racks fire over the weekend heading into the area with a lighter.

Court documents released Thursday say the video shows Glenn Helton, 48, picking up the lighter from the ground behind the police sub-station on Kalakaua Avenue on Sunday morning.

He tests the lighter and is then seen walking to the middle of the racks with a paper napkin and reaching between the boards, where smoke appeared a short time later, the court documents say.

Police say no one else was nearby.

Helton, charged with first-degree arson, went before a judge for the first time Thursday morning. His bail remains $70,000, and he’s expected to be back in court on Monday for a preliminary hearing.

Helton has five prior convictions, including misdemeanor assault and criminal property damage.

Fire officials say $300,000 worth of boards were destroyed in Sunday’s fire. The neighboring police sub-station, a snack bar and the Moana Surfrider hotel were also damaged.

It’s the second time in two years the surf racks have burned.

For ocean enthusiasts, it’s not a question of whether the city should replace the surf racks at Kuhio Beach it’s how it should be done.

“Not having them there is not the answer. It has to be there,” said Used Surf Boards Hawaii owner Alex Utal. “Cameras are great. But that’s reactive. You have to figure out a more proactive way to keep this from happening again.”

Those particular surf racks were just over a year old. The ones that preceded them were also the target of an arsonist.

“It’s just so obvious. You need to do things to prevent,” said John Shockley, head of the Free Access Coalition, which advocates for ocean access.

He said the racks are vital to hundreds of Oahu residents who might not have the ability to store a board at home or haul it to the beach.

If and when the racks are rebuilt, he said, more thought needs to be put into safeguarding the resource.

“Fire abatement system is so easy. Just put the shower system above the racks. Have it heat sensitive or smoke sensitive,” Shockley said. “Even if it’s a false positive you just wet the surfboards.”

The city couldn’t say much about the future of the racks ― just that a company had been hired to remediate the site. Repairs to the surfboard lockers, cameras, flagstone, light poles, are estimated to be about $220,000.

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