Fire at site of controversial training center on Camp Hansen is investigated
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — Military officials are investigating the cause of a fire early Monday that destroyed a construction shed on Camp Hansen.
The shed belongs to an Okinawan construction company engaged in building a controversial Army training facility on Camp Hansen’s Range 4.
“A temporary building used as a construction office was completely destroyed by the fire,” said Timothy Dougherty, 10th Army Support group spokesman at Torii Station. “The building belonged to the primary contractor working at the site.”
The Army is building a $3.8 million Special Forces training complex, replacing an aging training facility on another Camp Hansen range. Once completed, the facility is to combine drills currently being held on camps Hansen and Schwab by the Army’s 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group. Other U.S. forces also will use the area, which will include a “shoot house,” a breaching bay, a 50-meter flat shooting range, a rappelling tower and an administrative area.
Local residents have complained that the facility would pose a hazard to the nearby community of Igei in the town of Kin. Protesters built two makeshift towers just outside Camp Hansen’s fence line to observe the construction.
The Army has stated that measures such as a soundproof wall and the use of a special absorbent material to deflect any stray shots are being taken to ensure safety. And they have promised that training would not be scheduled for early-morning or late-night hours.
A spokesman for the Okinawa Prefectural Police in nearby Ishikawa said they learned of the fire after a driver reported it to police.
“The driver called us at 1:33 a.m. Monday, after he saw a fire somewhere in Kin,” the spokesman said. “We soon learned that it was on Camp Hansen. We immediately reported it to the military police, who later informed us that the fire was extinguished at 2:40 a.m.”
Okinawa police investigators Monday walked the fence line checking for breaks in fencing that has been installed in the area. Military officials are handling the investigation inside the fence.
“The cause of the fire is being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service,” Dougherty said. “We will not speculate as to the cause.”
He said the building had been secured in preparation for the passing of Typhoon Meari about 6 p.m. Saturday. Storm shutters were placed over the doors and windows to protect the glass, and the power to the building was turned off.
Masafumi Ikehara, the district mayor of the Igei community, said he was surprised to learn of the blaze Monday morning.
“I heard about the fire from one of the residents who went up on the watch tower early this morning,” he said Monday. “He told me that a building on the project site was gone and there was a blackened area.”
Ikehara leads a group of residents who stage a protest every morning at Camp Hansen’s gates.
“For the past 50 years, residents of Kin have been exposed to danger because of training at the base,” he said. “If we don’t stop the project now, the facility will continue to expose our children and grandchildren to danger, and they have to live with fears just as we had gone through.”
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.