Ring of fire

LIHUE — In December, a brush fire in Anahola got dangerously close to homes, forcing evacuations.

In March, a wildfire burned through 200 acres of Kokee.

In April, more than 100 acres were scorched in Koloa.

In July, smoke from a brush fire behind the Lihue Airport caused flight delays and missed flights due to traffic backups.

Soon after, a brush fire near the Aloha Beach Hotel in Wailua temporarily shut down Kuhio Highway while firefighters battled to get the blaze under control.

In total, there have been more than 100 brush fires since December that investigators suspect may have been intentionally set, according to Lt. Kenneth Cummings of the Kauai Police Department.

With no firm leads, public safety officials are now asking for the public’s help. And they are offering a $5,000 reward.

The CrimeStoppers program offers cash rewards to anyone furnishing anonymous information that leads to an arrest or conviction. The $5,000 reward being offered is for tips that help find the serial arsonist.

“We’re asking the public to keep their eyes and ears open,” Fire Chief Robert Westerman said.

What investigators know so far:

The fires initially appeared clustered in the Anahola area.

“They came in rapid succession, very suspicious,” especially given the time of year, Westerman said. Another clue: some of the sites had multiple ignition points.

At first, the fires were in areas where people were dumping garbage, making it difficult to find any evidence left behind, according to Fire Prevention Capt. Daryl Date. But the fires have since spread around the island.

Investigators suspect there is likely more than one person setting the fires, which lately have been concentrated on the Eastside near the Lihue area. The fires have been mostly set at night, or early in the morning.

“We have several possible suspects,” Cummings said.

But gathering enough evidence to make an arrest is difficult, which is why investigators are asking for the public’s help.

Adding to the difficulty of finding the persons or people responsible is that most of the brush fires have been set in unpopulated areas.

“So that is where community input becomes necessary in these crimes,” Date said.

Fortunately, the damage thus far has been limited. The only structure that has caught on fire has been a shed in Anahola.

But, “It’s a strain on the resources,” the fire chief said. “We have to realign people around the island” to make sure the fire department is able to respond if an emergency breaks out elsewhere.

CrimeStoppers manager Lt. Mark Ozaki said that although the fires have not caused much damage in monetary terms, they are still dangerous.

“We are concerned this will get someone caught up in the fire someday, and we worry about the firefighters’ safety,” Ozaki said. “A brush fire can turn into a structure fire in a moment.”

Anyone with information is encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at 808-246-8300. Tips may be left anonymously Monday through Friday from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tipsters may also call Lt. Mark Ozaki at 808-241-1688.

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