Blaze knocks out TV, Internet service
Jan 16, 2013 (The Honolulu Star-Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
It's not unusual for the Honolulu Fire Department to respond to fires at homeless encampments, HFD officials say. But Tuesday's early morning blaze under a freeway viaduct near Honolulu Airport marked the first time such a fire damaged telecomunications cables, cutting off telephone, Internet or cable TV service to about 25,000 homes and businesses.
The fiber-optic cables owned by Hawaiian Telcom and Oceanic Time Warner were charred by flames and intense heat from the fire that started at 1 a.m. and took 90 minutes to extinguish, said Capt. Terry Seelig, HFD spokesman.
A man in his 50s was taken to the hospital suffering from burns and smoke inhalation, Seelig said. Fire officials were not able to determine whether the fire was intentionally set or accidental.
Both Hawaiian Telcom and Oceanic Time Warner used parallel lines in their networks to reroute telecommunications traffic while crews worked to splice new cable around the damaged span beneath the viaduct where the westbound lanes of Nimitz Highway meet H-1 freeway near Kilihau Street. The damaged cables were secured in place by specialized hangers bolted to the underside of the viaduct.
About 15,000 Oceanic Time Warner customers who experienced a loss of their lower channels on digital cable had their service restored by noon, the company said. The affected customers were in Hawaii Kai. Additionally, half of Oceanic's Internet capacity to the mainland was affected, resulting in slow browsing and intermittent busy signals on the company's phone service.
Hawaiian Telcom said about 10,000 of its voice, data and television customers lost service because of the damaged cables. Service was incrementally restored throughout the day, and a complete restoration was expected by 8 p.m., a company spokesman said. The Hawaiian Telcom customers who lost service were mostly in West Oahu, although disruptions also were reported on Kauai.
The fire broke out in an area where homeless gather next to a state Department of Transportation base yard.
"It's a constant issue for us with the homeless campers there," said Caroline Sluyter, DOT spokeswoman. She said DOT crews, with the help of social service agencies and the Department of Public Safety, clear out the area about every six months.
"We haul everything out of there. There are tons of accumulated debris," she said. "Unfortunately, the homeless problem here is severe."
Seelig said the clutter under the viaduct, including furniture, cardboard, wooden pallets and plastic items, fueled the fire. The blaze was made more intense because it was in a confined area under the viaduct, he said. The first firefighters on the scene witnessed flames shooting up to 12 feet above the side of the viaduct, according to Seelig.
HFD over the years has responded to fires at homeless encampments under bridges and viaducts across Oahu, Seelig said.
After Tuesday morning's blaze, HFD was called to a smaller fire at 3:08 p.m. at a different group of homeless encampments under the eastbound section of the Dillingham offramp. No one was present at the three simple encampments constructed of cardboard and wooden pallets. Firefighters extinguished that blaze in 30 minutes.
"Wherever communities of homeless might congregate, occasionally there will be fires, whether they are intentional or accidental. Usually, it's what little they have that is destroyed," Seelig said.
Star-Advertiser reporter Leila Fujimori contributed to this report.
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