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Mayor’s inaugural bash ends with a bang

<p style="text-align:right;">Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi speaks Monday after taking the oath of office at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.</p><p>PETER SUR/


Tribune-Herald staff writer

An unexpected fireworks display in Hilo Bay Monday night had some wondering if New Year’s Eve had come a bit early or Fourth of July had arrived more than fashionably late.

As it turns out, the aerial show at 7 p.m. was the kicker to a post-inauguration shindig for Mayor Billy Kenoi at the Wainaku Executive Center.

“It was a small event, not a public event, and I think the fireworks were sort of a surprise ending,” Kenoi spokesman Ilihia Gionson said Tuesday.

He said the party was “a campaign event, not a county event” and that the fireworks were set off on the grounds of the center.

Kenoi said in a voicemail message Tuesday afternoon that the fireworks show was donated by Hawaii Explosives and Pyrotechnics of Mountain View.

“I know they got all the required permits,” Kenoi said. “They notified all adjoining properties within a 1,000-square-foot radius.”

That notification didn’t include the media or the public, and the event caused a bit of a stir on social media.

“HUGE fireworks going off at Hilo Bay, anybody know what’s going on?” wrote one Hilo resident on her Facebook page. A friend, apparently in the loop, replied: “Billy Kenoi Mayoral inauguration.”

Donald Pascual of Hawaii Explosives and Pyrotechnics said the display lasted four minutes. He declined to answer how much the show cost. The contribution wasn’t listed in a Campaign Spending Commission report dated Sunday, which covered contributions received in the period from Oct. 23 to the Nov. 6 general election. Kenoi won re-election in a nailbiter over former mayor Harry Kim.

The short but spectacular show caused concern among some who only heard the explosions but didn’t see the fireworks.

“I thought it might have been an airplane crash or something,” said Richard Taber. “I felt it first because of the vibration because of where I live. I live about two miles away, but I could feel it. Then, when I looked in that direction, I saw blue flashes in the sky, probably over Bayfront where they supposedly set it off.”

Police Capt. Robert Wagner, commander of the South Hilo Patrol Division, said police dispatchers logged only two calls on the event.

“Both of them, they didn’t know it was fireworks. They thought it was gunshots going off,” Wagner said. “One of the calls was in the Wainaku area and the other one, it was much further (away). It was from the Waiakea side, from Ainaola.

“I can tell you that if they were calling in about the fireworks, the dispatcher would just tell them, ‘It was just fireworks,’ and there would be no records. But there were two calls on record.”

Wagner said that since no roads were closed, a police permit wasn’t required.

A call on Tuesday morning to Mike Matsui, fireworks auditor for the county Fire Department, wasn’t returned by press time and several afternoon calls went to voicemail.

Email John Burnett at


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