The Maui News - With the number of brush fire calls in less than seven months this year approaching 12-month totals for previous years, Mayor Alan Arakawa said that the Fire Department may need additional funding if brush fires continue at the same rate.
And as more county money is spent on firefighting efforts, less is available for other services such as improving parks and paving roads, Arakawa said.
"When we have idiots in this community that go around and start fires, they're burning the assets of our community," he said. "The more of these things we have to deal with, the harder it is to create the kind of community and quality of life we want."
At a news conference last week, Arakawa and Fire Chief Jeff Murray called on residents to take precautions to prevent fires and to report suspicious activity.
Projected on screens behind Murray and Arakawa were photos from a brush fire that was declared extinguished Monday after blackening 87 acres in Kaupo.
Murray said fire investigators found remains of fireworks at the scene of the brush fire. Based on the time and location of the fire, it appeared to have been intentionally set, Murray said.
Over nine days, the cost to fight the fire was $82,000, Murray said, and involved 90 firefighters, including some with special wildland training who were called in on overtime. The Fire Department's Air One and other helicopters also were used in the firefighting effort.
"Luckily, this was in an isolated area, but it could have impacted many homes," Murray said.
He said firefighters had prepared for the possibility that more than 30 homes in the Kahikinui Hawaiian homestead area could have been affected by the fire.
Already, Murray estimated that the department has expended 13 percent of its budget for the year that began July 1.
As of Tuesday morning, the Fire Department had responded to 221 brush fire calls this year. The number amounts to 81 percent of the 272 brush fire calls last year. There were 231 brush fire calls in 2011 and 266 in 2010.
The fires have occurred throughout the island in areas, including Pa'ia, Wailuku and Kahului, Lahaina, Huelo and Kailua, Murray said.
If the current trend continues, "we're on our way to a terrible season," he said.
"We're just asking people to be fire safe and, if you notice people that are doing things out of the ordinary, to please report it," Murray said.
Arakawa said people can call 911 in an emergency or call the Mayor's Office or Fire Department if they have information about any of the suspicious fires.
"Help us catch these people starting these fires," Arakawa said. "It's not funny. It can take people's homes, lives, property.
Police declined comment Tuesday except to say that investigation of the fires is continuing.