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Man arrested after Ala Wai Plaza fire; residents evacuated

By Leila Fujimori

LAST UPDATED: 08:36 a.m. HST, Sep 11, 2013

Hundreds of people evacuated the Ala Wai Plaza condominium complex Tuesday night after someone reportedly set fire to a two-story unit.

Police arrested a 28-year-old man on suspicion of first-degree arson.

The suspect reportedly resides at the apartment with roommates and allegedly started the fire, police said.

The fire was reported at 9 p.m. at Unit 1801 in the Park Tower of the 349-unit complex at 500 University Ave.

"The kids in the park were screaming," said resident Ashley Yonamine, 18. "They saved a lot of people's lives."

Yonamine, who lives one floor below the fire, heard what sounded like a tea kettle whistling, but only after hearing the screams from Ala Wai Neighborhood Park realized it was the fire alarm.

Fire Capt. Terry Seelig said the cause of the fire remains under investigation, but it appears to have started on the lower floor. He said it caused extensive damage and had spread throughout the entire three-bedroom, two-story unit. Firefighters arrived at 9:04 p.m. and brought the blaze under control at 9:20 p.m.

No damage estimate was available Tuesday night.

Two other men who lived in the condo received help from the American Red Cross, but no one was injured .

Samuel Batista, 37, said his son, Luis Ortiz, shouted, "There's a fire!" and Ortiz called 911.

He and his son went to the burning unit and began looking for a fire extinguisher and found the building's house lines or hoses housed in cabinets in the hallway. He and his neighbor, Tom, and his son tried to tame the flames using two house lines and a fire extinguisher.

"If we didn't do that, it would have burned at least three or four other units," he said. "We stopped it from escalating. It completely burned the one unit."

Fire Capt. Terry Seelig said when firefighters arrived they found the three battling the blaze.

Mike Aguirre, 47, said he was out walking the dog when "someone said fire! We walked out to the park and we could see the flames -- good-sized flames coming out."

A group of teens playing basketball said they saw the fire and began taking video using their cell phones and iPods.

"We were playing ball, and we started hearing the fire alarm, and we were looking at the building and we saw the fire.

"We were yelling for people to come out," Welley said. "There's fire! Get out!"

His cell phone video showed the bright flames shooting from the window, and a big fireball of something burning fall to the ground.

Mark Burke, 14, said, "I saw a lot of people looking down."

"I thought someone was dying in there," he said.

He said he first thought it was a car alarm.

"And I looked up and I saw fire," he said.

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allie wrote:
lot of unstable arsonists out there
on September 11,2013 | 06:03AM
kailua1044 wrote:
and posters like you obviously. yikes.
on September 11,2013 | 10:59AM
localguy wrote:
Another example for a law retrofitting older buildings with sprinklers. Many cities across the USA require this and allow the majority of the cost to be taken in yearly tax credits. Insurance companies also lower insurance rates for sprinkler protected buildings. So where are Nei bureaucrats on requiring this safety upgrade? Doing what they usually do. waiting for someone to put $1 on their desk so they can start working on the law. As usual, Nei is last among the 50 states, our standard.
on September 11,2013 | 06:25AM
Denominator wrote:
Ignorance is the Mother of most opinions. What tax credits? Please explain. As for insurance companies - no they don't lower rates. There are only two companies in Hawaii that even offer insurance on high rises. The cost of installing sprinklers is millions of dollars that will never be recovered with any credits. As for this incident being an example - yes, no one was hurt. So what would sprinklers have done except create a huge property damage loss due to water?
on September 11,2013 | 08:43AM
Mike174 wrote:
Nice. Taking videos instead of helping...
on September 11,2013 | 06:52AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
Good job Batista and his neighbor.
on September 11,2013 | 10:03AM
control wrote:
Hey kids - next time, call 911 FIRST and maybe save lives instead of being dimwits and taking video to post.
on September 11,2013 | 10:30AM
iwanaknow wrote:
Wasn't there another fire in this same building within the last five years?
on September 11,2013 | 12:56PM
ejkorvette wrote:
on September 11,2013 | 04:06PM
HAJAA1 wrote:
Unstable town side
on September 12,2013 | 12:06AM
AJArmitage wrote:
As a resident of Ala Wai Plaza, I want to publicly thank those wonderful kids in the park who were screaming up at us that there really was a fire and to get out of the building. When the alarm went off, I checked out the hallway on the 20th floor and didn't see anyone, so thought it was just a false alarm. Then I went to my lanai. That's when I heard from the kids playing basketball (good for them -- it's so much better than playing video games) that there really was a fire and to evacuate. That's also when I smelled the smoke. So my husband and I gathered one cat (my other one was hiding under the bed and I couldn't get her) and left the building. Those kids are heroes to me. They might have saved our lives if the fire had spread, as well as the life of the cat I had to leave behind. I also want to thank everyone else who helped put out the fire, especially our wonderful Honolulu Firefighters who had it under control in about 15 minutes, and Ben, our resident manger. I am truly grateful that no one was hurt.
on September 12,2013 | 07:19AM
tashiwt wrote:
I agree with AJArmitage. I'm also a resident and if it weren't for those kids below, I wouldn't have gotten out with my 3 month old daughter so quickly. I too saw no one that had evacuated and was hesitant to wake my sleeping daughter 'for nothing'. I looked out towards the basketball court and all of the kids were screaming to us to 'get out. there's a fire'. They were certainly NOT doing nothing. Thank you so much 'kids'!! Feel good that you really made a difference and are VERY appreciated. Also Bravo to Samuel, Luis, and Tom for bravely working to control a fire. Great job Ala Wai plaza security staff and manager and the HFD/HPD personel on scene.
on September 12,2013 | 04:13PM
AJArmitage wrote:
I wish there were a "like" button!
on September 12,2013 | 06:02PM
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