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Police open arson investigation after criminal ‘hotbed’ burns in Central Oahu

Honolulu police opened an arson investigation today after several abandoned vehicles were set ablaze on a parcel of vacant state land near Whitmore Village that has been plagued by crime, including a murder in January.

About 30 Honolulu Fire Department firefighters battled the blaze today, which started just before 6 a.m. near Kamehameha Highway and Nui Avenue on land managed by the state’s Agribusiness Development Corporation.

An HFD helicopter crew and about 10 Federal Fire Department firefighters also assisted with containment efforts, said HFD Battalion Chief David Morgan. He said firefighters were hampered by the location of the fire, which spread down into a ravine, away from any water sources, and also by rain that muddied the access roads.

Morgan said arriving firefighters found numerous locations set on fire with discarded vehicles, homeless camps, and rubbish burning. He said the biggest area that burned was about one acre in size with some 20 vehicles on it, including abandoned fire trucks. Some of the burned items were shop equipment for what appeared to be makeshift workshops. He said the fire was in the same place where authorities conducted a sweep last week.

The Agribusiness Development Corporation, which is part of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, said during that sweep on Thursday, three people were arrested for outstanding warrants and 11 trespass warnings were issued. The corporation described the 230-acre agricultural parcel as a “hotbed for criminal activity” that has troubled the Whitmore and Poamoho communities for years.

In January, a 30-year-old woman was fatally shot on the land, and a 37-year-old man was later charged in connection with her death.

The corporation said in a news release on Friday that it “will be ramping up its efforts immediately to secure and prepare the lands for agricultural production by hiring around-the-clock security and clearing the brush, trash, and abandoned vehicles.”

The corporation said the land would be ready for farming by this summer.

At 4:09 p.m. today, firefighters declared the blaze 100% contained, Morgan said. The fire’s total size was not immediately available, and no injuries were reported.

Police opened a first-degree arson investigation in connection with the fire, but no one had been arrested by this afternoon.

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