Res­i­dents couldn’t hear the alarms in Honolulu blaze

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

As flames raged through a Honolulu high-rise build­ing, killing three peo­ple and in­jur­ing a dozen oth­ers, some res­i­dents didn’t even re­al­ize a blaze had bro­ken out un­til they opened their doors or saw fire­fight­ers rac­ing to bat­tle the in­ferno.

Sev­eral Marco Polo high-rise res­i­dents told The As­so­ci­ated Press the sirens are lo­cated in the hall­ways and they had trou­ble hear­ing them when the blaze started. There were also no flash­ing alarm lights or pub­lic an­nounce­ments about the deadly fire, they said.

Britt Reller was in the shower when the fire started and didn’t re­al­ize the build­ing was ablaze un­til smoke be­gan bil­low­ing through his apart­ment, his brother said. He rushed out to try to save his 85-year-old mother, but he couldn’t reach her and sought refuge from the smoke and flames un­der a bed. His brother, a lo­cal pas­tor, was on the phone with Reller at the time. He never heard from him again, and po­lice later told him that both Reller and his mother, Melba Jean­nine Dil­ley, were among those killed.

‘Didn’t sound nor­mal’

“He said the smoke was very, very thick, and I heard him call­ing for my mother and then the phone went dead,” Reller said. “I drove about 12 miles from my of­fice to his apart­ment and then I just had to watch from out­side. I’m still in shock. It is just sur­real.” Joanna Kuwata, 71, who was sin­gle and lived alone on the 26th floor of the build­ing, was also killed in the fire, her sis­ter told The Honolulu Star-Ad­ver­tiser. Jayne Mat­suyama said her sis­ter’s apart­ment was not dam­aged by fire, and she sus­pects she died of smoke in­hala­tion.

Fire of­fi­cials have not re­leased any in­for­ma­tion about a pos­si­ble cause for the blaze. A fire de­part­ment spokesman did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion on Sun­day. “It didn’t sound quite like a nor­mal tra­di­tional fire alarm,” said Air Force cy­ber tech­ni­cian Cory La Roe, who didn’t know the build­ing had no sprin­klers when he moved in May.

LaRoe, who is from Florida but liv­ing in Hawaii while serv­ing in the mil­i­tary, said there were no an­nounce­ments or flash­ing lights when the fire broke out. “I just heard a loud ring­ing, which is what caused me to look out­side. I ac­tu­ally thought it was some­thing from the street that was mak­ing the noise. Af­ter I saw peo­ple run­ning out and went out the hall­way my­self, that’s when I knew it was a fire alarm go­ing off.” Gor­don Ki­hune, who has lived in the build­ing for about 12 years, said he hasn’t seen any fire ex­tin­guish­ers or hoses in the build­ing that he can re­mem­ber. He didn’t hear the alarms go­ing off when the fire broke out, Ki­hune said. He said he “only rec­og­nized the fact that there was some­thing wrong when I saw the firetrucks pull up, and then I poked my head out, then I could hear the alarm.” Ki­hune said he has a “bit of a hear­ing prob­lem” with high-pitched sounds. But be­cause the alarm is in the hall­way and not close to his apart­ment, he could not hear it, he said. “For peo­ple that have that dis­abil­ity, it could be a rea­son for not hear­ing it,” Ki­hune said. An­gela Kim, a 30th-floor res­i­dent, said she can only hear the sirens if her apart­ment door is open. She re­called an ear­lier fire alarm test that she missed en­tirely. “I slept through it, it’s so soft,” she said.

Con­fin­ing the blaze

The fire broke out in a unit on the 26th floor, where all three of the dead were found, Fire Chief Manuel Neves said. The build­ing known as the Marco Polo res­i­dences is not re­quired to have fire sprin­klers, which would have con­fined the blaze to the unit where it started, Neves said. The 36-floor build­ing near the tourist mecca of Waikiki was built in 1971, be­fore sprin­klers were manda­tory in high-rises. It has over 500 units. — AP

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