Saturday, January 13, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, January 13, 2001

Arson guts Kalihi warehouse

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

A fire that caused more than $1 million in damage to a Kalihi warehouse yesterday morning started when someone intentionally set fire to a nearby Mitsubishi van, fire and police officials said.

Two businesses on the ground floor were damaged when fire spread to a warehouse at 444 Waiakamilo Road. Investigators are reviewing arson files for the area, which had five fires intentionally set one night in 1999.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

The investigation has been turned over to arson investigators at the Honolulu Police Department, said fire spokesman Capt. Richard Soo.

Ten fire companies responded to the 2:21 a.m. call at 444 Waiakamilo Road and had the fire under control at 3:13 a.m., Soo said.

Two businesses — Mascot Auto Parts and Electronic Business Machines — occupy the ground floor of the building, which did not have sprinklers, Soo said.

The 23-year-old owner of the car parts store told officials he and his 22-year-old wife and their 2-year-old daughter were inside the warehouse taking inventory when it caught fire, Soo said.

The man said he smelled smoke, came out and saw the van and a portion of the warehouse on fire, Soo said. The family escaped unharmed.

A fire investigation revealed that someone had set fire to the Mitsubishi van parked next to the auto parts store. The fire then spread to the warehouse. The van belonged to Mascot Auto Parts.

Firefighters placed absorbent pads and pillows along a nearby driveway to prevent what is believed to be motor oil from leaking into the storm drain and contaminating the city water supply, Soo said.

Investigators estimated the loss of the contents at more than $1 million and declared the building a total loss, with more than $300,000 in damage, Soo said.

The heat of the fire reached such intensity that parts of the building’s steel frame buckled, warped and separated from the tile wall in some areas. The steel roof also buckled and caved in.

Honolulu Police Department Det. Robert Cravalho said there’s a bar near the warehouse that closes at 2 a.m., and police are hoping that someone may have seen how the fire was started shortly before 2:21 a.m.

"At this point there’s no rhyme or reason for the fire," said Cravalho, who specializes in arson and robbery. "The motive is unclear."

Police are reviewing their arson files and history of the area, which according to Cravalho had five fires set intentionally in one night in October 1999. Those involved a burned car, dumpsters and other deliberately set fires, Cravalho said.

The owner of the Mitsubishi van told police it was broken and had nothing stored inside. The fire was started inside the van, Cravalho said.

While the damage to Electronic Business Machines came to more than $200,000 in contents, the business remained open. The business services copy machines and printers, said owner Ron Shirai.

"All our customers are concerned about us," Shirai said. "There’s lots of smoke, soot all over the place. Our phones were down for at least half a day. We have copy machines in the display room. Those are damaged. We can’t turn on the electrical outlets on the floor because the floor is wet. We’re basically cleaning up."

Shirai said he had talked with the young owners of Mascot Auto Parts and said it’s fortunate no one got hurt in the fire. "That’s the most important part," he said.

Anyone with information on the fire is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 955-8300.

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