HONOKOHAU VALLEY - A man whose pants were on fire as he ran from a burning house in Honokohau Valley was arrested in an arson investigation Tuesday, police said.
The 34-year-old man was living at the 1,500-square-foot home with a woman who had fled after a domestic dispute Tuesday morning, said Lt. Don Simpson of the Criminal Investigation Division. A short time later, he said the man was seen running out of the house and going into a ditch running behind the residence to douse flames on his pants.
The Napili engine company was first on the scene at 10 a.m. after receiving the alarm at 9:40 a.m., found the house fully engulfed and reported hearing several explosions, apparently from propane tanks at the home.
In all, six firefighting units responded, acting Battalion Chief Ryan Ayakawa said. Along with the Lahaina companies, Kahului rescue and tanker crews were joined by the Air One helicopter in fighting the fire reported at the house about a quarter mile into the valley.
The taro-growing area has no fire hydrants, and Ayakawa said the fire crews had to prevent flames from the house spreading up the valley slopes.
"The guys did a great job keeping the fire from getting out of control and going up the side of the mountain," he said.
Honokowai resident Stevan Holt, who had been walking near Honolua Bay, drove to a pineapple field overlooking the valley after seeing smoke and hearing a police car speed by.
"It was a major cloud of smoke, dark black smoke," he said. "It was blowing into the back of the valley. It pretty much filled the valley with smoke. It was billowing up quite fiercely."
He said the house appeared to be engulfed before firefighters arrived.
"You could see the flames just raging," Holt said. "You could hear people yelling and running to get water."
The Air One helicopter was brought in to conduct water drops to keep the fire from spreading to brush.
The house was destroyed, with damage estimated at $150,000 to the structure and $50,000 to its contents, Simpson said. He said a Jeep at the residence also was destroyed and another vehicle sustained paint damage.
Firefighters responded quickly enough to keep the fire from spreading to nearby houses, Simpson said. "The Fire Department did an excellent job," he said.
The flames were reported under control within 50 minutes of the first crew arriving at the scene.
Three police arson investigators and two Maui Fire Department arson investigators also responded to the fire scene.
After the fire was started, the man living in the house fled the area. But he was stopped shortly afterward in Lahaina by patrol officers, Simpson said. He said the man was treated by medics for burns and was in custody Tuesday evening at the Lahaina Police Station as police continued the investigation.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.