Police: Fire at closed hotel in Hilo may be due to electrical tampering

UPDATE, 3 p.m.:

The Hawaii Police Department has taken on the investigation of an early morning fire that caused damage estimated at $2 million to the closed Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay hotel on Banyan Drive.

Capt. Sandor Finkey of the Hilo Patrol Division said detectives from the Criminal Investigations Section would take over the investigation into the fire – which is being investigated as an arson attack.

“We are still awaiting the conclusion of the fire inspector, but it is possible that it was electrical and there may have been signs of tampering with the electrical system” in the building, Finkey said.

Finkey said that while an arson investigation has been opened, “the cause is still undetermined.”

Finkey and Fire Chief Kazuo Todd said there was evidence of squatter activity in the building, which was closed by the state Department of Lands and Natural Resources in 2016 after the lease expired. on the property, which is on state land.

Department of Lands and Natural Resources spokesman Dan Dennison today said the DLNR ‘is pursuing demolition and redevelopment of the property, but this effort is currently on hold due to lack of demolition funds as well as non-DLNR disputes”.

The dispute is a lawsuit filed in September by the Edmund C. Olson Trust against Ed Bushor and Stewart Miller, CEO and chairman of Tower Development Inc., respectively – and a partner in the corporate entity that owns the Grand Naniloa Hotel on Banyan Drive.

According to the lawsuit, Tower and Olson/Naniloa partnered to form WHR LLC, owner of Grand Naniloa. In doing so, Bushor and Miller signed an agreement prohibiting Tower from acquiring, developing or owning potential competing properties – defined as “a hotel project with more than 50 rooms within 30 miles of Naniloa”.

And according to Dennison, an interim security contract at former Uncle Billy’s property expired at the end of 2021.

“DLNR continues to explore cost-effective options to further secure the property,” Dennison said.

Todd said there was a small outbreak at the site of the previously extinguished fire on Friday afternoon, “So our units responded.”

According to Todd, there are two categories of fires started by humans, “intentional and accidental”. And while neither Todd nor Finkey said the fire was started intentionally, there are indications authorities believe the fire was caused by people, either intentionally or through negligence.

“As far as we can tell, and we won’t come to a definitive conclusion because no witnesses – and only the people who started the fire will know for sure if it was beyond their ability to handle or if it was something thing they decided to intentionally spread,” Todd said. “We can tell you there was evidence at the scene of previous fires, and that squatters were there. And potentially, there is a correlation between these two things.

“Unfortunately the structure itself had about 70% involvement, 75% on that wing that was burning. So we had a pretty good working fire on the third and fourth floors of that building, with a little extension on the second floor.

Todd said he thinks the fire will make the building more dangerous for anyone who ventures inside.

“You’re going to have unstable parts of the structure that have carcinogenic materials that were left over from the fire,” Todd said. “There will be slippery and wet areas as there are now holes in the roof.

“So definitely it’s going to be more dangerous than before, and definitely we should try to find a way to make sure it’s locked down and prevent people from being able to enter the place.”

Three people were arrested in the building later that day for matters unrelated to the fire itself.

Police say Antanacious Nau, 29, of Hilo, was arrested on two counts of third degree promotion of a dangerous drug, possession of marijuana and criminal trespassing.

And according to Dennison, Ricardo Cordeiro, 37, and Nohelani Cordeiro, both of Hilo, were cited for criminal trespassing on state land after they were found asleep in a room at the old hotel.

PREVIOUSLY:

An early morning fire today at a closed Hilo hotel caused over $2 million in damage and shut down Banyan Drive for approximately 3.5 hours.

Police say staff at another Hilo hotel reported the fire at the former Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay hotel at 87 Banyan Drive at 1:39 a.m.

Upon arriving, responders determined that the south side of the structure was engulfed in flames on all four levels.

Police notified occupants of nearby structures and hotels of the fire.

There were no signs of anyone trapped in the burning structure or in need of assistance and no injuries were reported as a result of the incident, police said.

Banyan Drive was temporarily closed due to fires and police vehicles on the road and traffic was diverted. The road was reopened shortly after 5 a.m.

The fire was contained to the structure with damage estimated at $2,025,000. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the police department’s non-emergency line at (808) 935-3311 or Crime Stoppers at (808) 961-8300.

This story will be updated.

Email John Burnett at [email protected]

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