A disgruntled former tenant was being held by Honolulu police last night as an arson suspect regarding a fire in a house used by recovering alcoholics in Kalihi Valley.
The man was chased down by a couple of residents from the neighborhood after witnesses say they saw him walking away from the three-story house at 1561 Kilohana St. shortly after the fire began. The fire caused an estimated $165,000 in damage to the house and its contents, Fire Capt. Terry Seelig said.
Firefighters arrived at the house on a narrow street at the top of Kilohana Street overlooking Kalihi Valley and found all three stories of the house on fire.
Seelig said firefighters took 22 minutes to get the fire under control and 54 minutes to extinguish it after the initial alarm at 4:17 p.m.
Josiah Paia, who lives several houses from the home that burned, said that before the fire he was fixing his bicycle when he saw a man in the area who seemed suspicious. "I’ve never seen him around here before," Paia said. "Something told me this guy was up to no good."
Paia said a relative later alerted him to the fire. "So I walked to the road and noticed plenty smoke coming out," Paia said.
Paia said he ran up to the house to make sure no one was inside and that his neighbors were safe. He said he spoke with witnesses who thought the suspect had caused the fire, and he and neighbor Nick Schnetzka started looking for the man in Schnetzka’s car. He said they spotted him at a nearby bus stop but that the suspect disappeared before they could turn around the car.
People waiting at the bus stop told them the man had run into a nearby store, Paia said.
He and Schnetzka caught the man in the store, called police and held him outside the store until police arrived, he said.
Paia said that when he asked the man what he was doing in the neighborhood, the man said he didn’t know what Paia was talking about.
"He started to resist … so we held him down," Paia said.
Jason Magers, a tenant in the home next door to the house that burned, said the man had been thrown out of the recovery house a little more than a week ago for drinking alcohol.
The witnesses said they saw the man return to the home yesterday and pound on its door. The house was unoccupied at the time.
Shortly after he left, they noticed a fire, they said.
Investigators suspect some kind of fuel was used to accelerate the fire.