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Alleged star of fire video booked to appear in court

By Rosemarie Bernardo

LAST UPDATED: 2:11 a.m. HST, Jun 16, 2011

A 45-year-old man police say was caught on a surveillance video allegedly setting fires at two properties in Tantalus was to appear today in Honolulu District Court.

Thomas Chong, 45, of Moiliili was arrested Tuesday and charged Wednesday with one count each of first-degree and second-degree arson for allegedly setting five separate fires on May 20. Chong was also charged in a series of fires in Makiki May 10-17. He is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

Before 4 a.m. May 20, longtime Maunalaha Road resident Hennessy Brown awoke after hearing his two dogs continously barking. He and his wife then heard a loud explosion and saw a bright flash of light. "I thought a car blew up," he said. "It was really loud and really bright."

Brown headed out of his home and saw a fire at the perimeter of his home. He grabbed a garden hose to extinguish the fire. Singe marks from two small fires were observed near his garage.

Police said accelerant pooling at the base of the property led to a small fire ball, and Brown said he believes the force of the fireball extinguished the small fires. Had he not been there to put the fire out, Brown said, his neighbor's home likely would've caught fire.

He sent police a copy of a video taken from his surveillance system that allegedly caught Chong setting the fires. A part of the video that is posted on KHON's website shows an explosive fire reaching 30 feet in height. The blaze was several feet away from his neighbor's bedroom.

Since then, Brown's neighbor, Joan Aileen Mattos Kaaiai, remains shaken and has trouble sleeping. "I don't sleep soundly anymore," said Kaaiai, 79.

She and her husband, Thomas, were asleep when they heard a "loud boom" and saw the flash of light right outside their bedroom window.

Two small fires were also set near her son's truck and near her mailbox in their driveway.

Last week, Chong was indicted on five counts of arson relating to four fires in Makiki between May 10 and 17. One of those fires destroyed a vehicle and burned part of a unit above. The other three fires were stopped in time and caused minimal damage. He had been free after posting $100,000 bail on May 25.

Police said Chong has been targeting people who speak with his ex-girlfriend, apparently out of jealousy. After his first arrest, police said Chong twice set fire to a car belonging to the friend of his ex-girlfriend and tried to light fires to the doorways of two Wilder Avenue apartments while people were sleeping.

The ex-girlfriend filed a temporary restraining order recently against Chong, according to court records.


Star-Advertiser reporter Rob Shikina contributed to this story.

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