FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRESS CONFERENCE December 15, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. via Zoom
On July 30, 2021 – an extremely dry and windy day in Waimea – Parker Ranch operations on its lands started a fire, which would grow to be the largest recorded fire in Hawaii’s history. Parker Ranch was constructing metal fencing on its land but was using a metal saw, and doing so without required safety protections like a nearby water supply. Sparks from the sawing of metal ignited a fire that started slowly to spread. The fire remained on Parker Ranch’s land for more than a day but Parker Ranch failed to suppress or contain it. As a result, it eventually escaped from Parker Ranch land and burned several hundred acres of Plaintiffs’ land, soil, fencing, farming equipment, vehicles, and even one of their homes.
Plaintiffs are Parker Ranch’s neighbors, hardworking ranchers and Hawaiian homesteaders who care deeply about the lands they live on and work daily. Despite that Parker Ranch claims to have “a committed kuleana to community”, it allowed the fire to escape its own lands, engulf its neighbors’ lands, and nonetheless offered Plaintiffs no meaningful help at the time. Plaintiffs were left to fight the fire themselves as it engulfed and burned their land and threatened their families’ lives.
Nearly a year and a half later, Parker Ranch has not apologized to Plaintiffs, let alone even acknowledged publicly that the fire started on Parker Ranch land. Meanwhile, Plaintiffs to this day are dealing with overwhelming dust, infertile soil, and land that is simply uninhabitable for livestock and unworkable for ranchers.
Today Plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit in the Third Circuit Court, State of Hawaii against Parker Ranch and its fencing contractor, K II K Services, Inc. The lawsuit alleges several claims against Parker Ranch and K II K and seeks redress for the extensive harm and damage that resulted from the fire and continues today.
Lifelong Waimea resident, Plaintiff Nicole Kepano said: “Even 17 months after the fire, we are living and dealing every day with its effects. We have no vegetation, trees or windbreaks to break up or filter the wind and dust. People in town can see those big dust storms up on the hill; we are directly in line of those storms.”
Kepano added: “What tugs at my heart is that we are people of Waimea. We are farmers, we are ranchers, and just like Parker Ranch, we are stewards of this land. The difference is, we are not wealthy people. We are regular people who poured our blood, sweat, tears, heart and soul into this land for our families and for this community.”
Plaintiffs’ attorney, Peter Olson of Olson & Sons explained: “This was the largest documented fire in Hawaii’s history; Parker Ranch bears responsibility. Parker Ranch owes it to the fire victims and to the public to acknowledge that responsibility.”
Kepano concluded: “We know accidents happen, but the simple solution is what we are taught when we are kids; kala mai ourselves, apologize for our wrongdoing, and make things right – ho‘oponopono. Whatever it takes. That’s the Hawaiian way.”
Plaintiff April Wana said: “The dust is suffocating to this day. We can no longer use our land, and our kids and our grandkids can’t enjoy it like we used to.” April’s husband, Jason Mattos, is a dedicated cattle rancher who explains: “The land cannot even support one cow now, it’s just dust and weeds where there used to be beautiful green grass.”
Plaintiff Janine Sills added: “What took Rodney & me 20 years to build, it took the fire 20 minutes to destroy. We’re devastated, it destroyed everything, including our quality of life.” Plaintiffs’ attorney, Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton of Bickerton Law Group, said: “Under Hawaii law, a landowner who causes a destructive and devastating fire resulting from peculiarly risky activity on its property will be held accountable for resulting harm.”
James J. Bickerton, Esq.
Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton, Esq.
Attorneys for Plaintiffs
Bickerton Law Group, LLLP
Assistant to Mr. Bickerton and Ms. Morgan-Bickerton – Karen Kaneshiro:
Peter S.R. Olson, Esq.
Robert K. Olson, Esq.
John L. Olson, Esq.
Attorneys for Plaintiffs
Olson & Sons, Attorneys at Law