Police: Fire in shuttered Hilo hotel might be due to electrical tampering

Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald The Hawaii Fire Department investigates the aftermath of a fire at Uncle Billy's hotel in Hilo.

Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Rooms are charred from a fire early Friday morning at Uncle Billy's hotel in Hilo.

courtesy Hawaii Police Department An early morning fire at the shuttered former Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel caused more than $2 million in damage.

DLNR photo

DLNR photo

DLNR photo

UPDATE, 3 p.m.:

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


Capt. Sandor Finkey of the Hilo Patrol Division said Criminal Investigation Section detectives will be taking over the investigation of the fire — which is being investigated as an arson case.

“We’re still waiting on the Fire Inspector’s finding, but it’s possible it may have been electrical and it’s possible there may have been some sign of tampering with the electrical” system in the building, Finkey said.

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

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

Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesman Dan Dennison said today DLNR “has been pursuing demolition and redevelopment of the property, but this effort is currently on hold due to lack of funds for demolition as well as non-DLNR related litigation.”

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

According to the suit, Tower and Olson/Naniloa partnered to form WHR LLC, which owns the Grand Naniloa. In doing so, Bushor and Miller signed an agreement prohibiting Tower from acquiring, developing or owning any potential competitive properties — defined as “a hotel project of more than 50 rooms within a 30-mile radius of the Naniloa.”

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

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

Todd said there was a small flare-up at the site of the previously extinguished fire Friday afternoon, “So our units did respond back.”

According to Todd, there are two categories of fires set by humans, “intentional and accidental.” And although neither Todd nor Finkey said the fire was intentionally set, there are clues that authorities believe the fire was caused by people, whether intentionally or carelessly.

“As far as we can tell, and we won’t come to a final conclusion because no witnesses — and only the people who started the fire are going to know for sure if it grew beyond their ability to manage or whether it was something they decided to intentionally spread,” Todd said. “We can tell you there was evidence on scene of previous fires, and that squatters had been there. And potentially, there’s a correlation between those two things.

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

Todd said he believes the fire is going to make the building more dangerous to anyone who ventures inside.

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

“So definitely, it’s going to be more dangerous than before, and definitely, we should be trying to find a way to make sure it’s locked up and prevent people from being able to make entry into the location.”

Three individuals were arrested in the building later in the day on matters unrelated to the fire itself.

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

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


An early morning fire today at a shuttered Hilo hotel caused more than $2 million in damage and closed Banyan Drive for about 3 1/2 hours.

According to police, staff from another Hilo hotel reported the fire at the former Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel at 87 Banyan Drive at 1:39 a.m..

Arriving responders they determined the south side of the structure was engulfed in flames on all four levels.

Police notified occupants of neighboring structures and hotels about the fire.

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

Banyan Drive was temporarily closed due to fire 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 on 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 jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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