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Three Construction Workers Killed in Hawaii Observatory Fire

January 17, 1996 GMT

MAUNA KEA, Hawaii (AP) _ A fire apparently started by a cutting torch killed three construction workers building a huge, $400 million telescope atop Hawaii’s highest mountain. Twenty-three others were injured.

The blaze broke out Tuesday in the Subaru Telescope Project, also known as the Japan National Large Telescope, on 13,796-foot Mauna Kea.

The three construction workers were trapped in the upper level of the observatory’s dome. They succumbed to toxic fumes generated by burning insulation, said Hawaii County Assistant Fire Chief Garfield Arakaki.

Construction began in 1992 on the telescope, billed as the largest and most expensive single-mirror telescope in the world. The 315-inch telescope was to be completed in March, with installation of a 26-foot mirror in 1997.

The extent of the damage to the observatory and its effect on the timetable for completion were not immediately known.

A workman with a cutting torch was modifying an elevator on or near a 40-foot-high observation platform when dripping liquefied metal ignited insulation, said Donald Hall, head of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, which oversees activity at the summit.

Two workmen with fire extinguishers were unable to control the rapidly spreading fire, he said.

Killed were Marvin Arruda, 52,; Warren Kaleo, 36; and Ricky Del Rosario, 38. Three others were in fair condition with smoke inhalation Wednesday. The rest of those injured were treated at a hospital and released.

A county helicopter fighting a brush fire nearby rescued a worker stranded on top of the dome. The worker was not hurt.

The observatory was considered Japan`s first major science facility built outside the country. Twelve other observatories are atop the mountain.