Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Arson suspected in Makaha blaze

By Leila Fujimori


Fire investigators suspect a 30-acre wildfire that forced the evacuation of golfers at the Makaha Valley Country Club yesterday was intentionally set.

"Initial fire calls indicated several points of origin," said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Terry Seelig. "There is a strong probability it was intentionally set."

Police are investigating the fire, first reported at 11:07 a.m., as an arson case but had no suspects last night.

About 45 HFD firefighters, along with some federal firefighters, had the blaze 90 percent contained at 7 p.m.

The Fire Department will return today if any flare-ups occur. Yesterday the Fire Department dispatched nine companies and four water tankers as well as a helicopter.

"It was obvious to me that it had several starting points, so it was obviously intentionally set," said James Richardson, who had a bird's-eye view of the fire from his 19th-floor condo in Makaha Valley Towers. "I could see four places where the smoke was rising. ... So it seemed obvious in at least four different spots all along Huipu Drive."

Winds, which were a predominant factor in spreading the fire, pushed it toward the golf course clubhouse, Seelig said.

The fire came "all the way up to the fairways, No. 10 and 11," said Russell Hirata, country club general manager, noting the smoke. "We evacuated all the golfers, and then we decided to close the course."

The country club refunded about 40 golfers and turned on sprinklers along the edges of the course.

The fire did not come close to any houses, but police controlled traffic on the road leading to Makaha Valley Towers to allow HFD vehicles access.

The area surrounding the golf course is overgrown with dry brush and trees, Seelig said, but the course's greens acted as a firebreak.

Richardson said, "It really got scary at one point when the black smoke was at its thickest and when the wind was blowing up toward Mauna Olu (Estates) subdivision."

Seelig urged anyone with information about the Makaha Valley fire to call police.

He also reminded residents to immediately call 911 when spotting smoke or fire and not assume someone else has called.

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