An arsonist, who is believed to have set three Waikiki hotel fires in three days, is still on the loose and police are asking the public’s assistance to help find a “person of interest,” whose image was captured on surveillance video taken at the scene of the crimes.
CrimeStoppers and the Honolulu Police Department released images of the man they are seeking on Wednesday. They are asking anyone with information about his identity or whereabouts to call CrimeStoppers.
Hotel officials and emergency responders say they are hopeful that the release of the man’s image will curtail further incidents. Meanwhile, the visitor industry has embarked on an educational campaign to keep visitors informed about how to improve their own safety and security.
“Definitely we are concerned. Hey, this is a pattern. If you look at the pattern, there have been three fires in three days and this is day four. Do we end up having another fire? We very well could,” said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Scot Seguirant.
Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association, said the visitor industry, especially in Waikiki, is “on alert” and kicking its normal fire safety and security protocols into high gear.
“Right now, I know that this person in Waikiki is total enemy No. 1,” Hannemann said. “We’ve got eyes on the situation. Not just the folks in security, but all the employees know what we are up against, too.”
Hannemann said the visitor industry is working closely with the fire department and police to ensure that there is a coordinated effort to stop the Waikiki fires.
“We’re concerned, but it’s not because we aren’t prepared. The visitor industry regularly trains for fires. We have an annual safety and security conference and ongoing dialogue. But anytime you have a negative incident occur in a destination it’s never good. In this case, it’s one on top of two others so we are trying to nip this in the bud as quickly as we can.”
The string of fires began Sunday at around 10:05 p.m. at the Alohilani Hotel. The hotel’s security team responded to alarms on two separate floors and extinguished the fire, which caused about $4,000 worth of damage. Seguirant said HFD was dispatched at 10:25 p.m. The fire was out before firefighters arrived and HFD confirmed that it had been fully extinguished at 10:32 p.m.
At about 7:45 p.m. Monday an unknown suspect used an accelerant to ignite a fire in a linen bin at an elevator landing on the 14th floor of the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel, police said. Seguirant said firefighters were dispatched at 8:36 p.m. and the fire was extinguished at 9:13 p.m. The hotel sustained $1.8 million in damages from fire, smoke and water, he said.
Seguirant said the fire was in progress when firefighters arrived, but it was controlled by sprinklers and quickly extinguished. Still, guests had to be evacuated and while they were away from their rooms, CrimeStoppers said two hotel rooms were burglarized and a male was seen on “video surveillance carrying at least two backpacks that appear similar to the ones taken in the burglary.”
On Tuesday another fire occurred at 8:38 p.m. in a 28th floor hallway at the Grand Waikikian, located in the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Seguirant said firefighters were dispatched at 8:44 p.m. and confirmed at 8:55 p.m. that the fire, which had been extinguished prior to their arrival, had been put out. Although some units were evacuated, no injuries were reported. The damage was estimated at $10,000.
Seguirant said HFD also is looking into another fire at the Waikiki Banyan, which occurred Sunday at approximately 1:13 a.m.
“This incident came in as an activated fire alarm. There was a small fire. It had already been extinguished when we got there,” he said. “It hasn’t been determined if there is a connection to the other fires that were set.”
Waikiki Improvement Association President Rick Egged said he doesn’t recall a “series of attacks like this happening in at least the last 20 years.”
“We have to get on this immediately. I’m sure HPD and HFD are doing their best on this,” Egged said.
Seguirant said HFD has concluded its investigation into the three fires and has informed police that they were “intentionally set in the same manner.”
While the Waikiki fires required substantial fire department resources, Seguirant said there were no deaths or injuries in part because there’s a nationwide building requirement that hotels have sprinklers. Seguirant said that code was adopted after a 1980 fire at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Paradise, Nev., underlined the importance of fire prevention. That fire, which was primarily caused by an electrical ground fault, killed 85 people and sent some 650 to the hospital.
“We love sprinklers. We think they are the best thing ever,” Seguirant said, adding that fire prevention is important given that “human decision and laws can’t stop people from making bad or wrong decisions.”
Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said Wednesday evening that the police investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made.
Texas-based Peter Tarlow, a safety and security expert for visitor industries across the globe, said it appears that Hawaii’s visitor industry is doing the right thing in promptly responding to “what is essentially a form of domestic terrorism,” because “it creates a sense of terror for people in hotels.”
Tarlow said Waikiki hotels should be upping their surveillance feed and securing flammables such as public garbage and linen bins. They need to coordinate with emergency responders and each other and emphasize these efforts to contain negative publicity, he said. They also must stay transparent and work fast to deter copycat situations, Tarlow said.
“If they do all of these things, there is so much going on in the world right now, I don’t think these incidents will draw world headlines,” Tarlow said. “I certainly wouldn’t be afraid to stay in any hotel in Waikiki.”
BE A CRIMESTOPPER
Phone tips, anonymous or otherwise, can be left at 955-8300. Anonymous tips also can be transmitted to the police online at honolulucrimestoppers.org or via the P3 Tips App. CrimeStoppers reminds the public not to approach a person of interest. All suspects and wanted fugitives should be considered armed and dangerous.
>> Do your research before arriving at a property and only stay in visitor accommodations that have sprinklers. Hotels in Hawaii are required to have sprinklers, but some individually owned vacation rental units may not.
>> Plan for the unexpected by taking an inventory of floor and property exits. Count the number of doors or windows to an exit so that if electricity fails you can still find your way out.
>> In a fire, “stay low and go,” whenever possible.
>> Don’t count on electronics working during a major incident. It pays to pick an emergency meeting place in advance.
>> If a fire breaks out, sound the alarm to notify others.
>> If you have to be evacuated, lock your room.
>> Make a habit of always securing valuables in your in-room hotel safe.
>> Don’t flash money or jewelry.
Source: HFD, Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii