Honolulu high-rise fire that left 3 dead ‘was like a hor­ror movie’ to res­i­dents

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD - By Caleb Jones and Marco Gar­cia

HONOLULU — A Hawai­ian Air­lines in-flight man­ager called his brother as smoke filled his 26thfloor apart­ment in Honolulu be­fore he and his mother lost their lives in the blaze, the man’s brother said.

Pearl City Com­mu­nity Church Pas­tor Phil Reller told the Honolulu StarAd­ver­tiser that po­lice con­firmed that two of the three vic­tims killed in the blaze Fri­day are his mother and brother.

Reller told the news­pa­per he re­ceived a call from his brother, Britt Reller, 54, say­ing he had been tak­ing a shower when he smelled the smoke. He rushed out but was un­able to get to their 85-year-old mother, Melba Jean­nine Dil­ley. He had crawled un­der a bed and wasn’t heard from again, his brother told the news­pa­per.

Britt Reller had worked as an in-flight man­ager for Hawai­ian Air­lines for two years. In an emailed statement to the Associated Press on Satur­day, Robin Spar­ling, vice pres­i­dent of in-flight ser­vices at the air­line, said Reller “was a tal­ented man­ager and car­ing co-worker and we will miss him ter­ri­bly. Our hearts are with Britt’s brother, Phil, and his en­tire fam­ily.”

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 high­rises. It has over 500 units.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Cald­well said the city needs to look at passing a law re­quir­ing older build­ings be retro­fit­ted with sprin­klers.

Karen Hast­ings was in her 31st-floor Honolulu apart­ment when she smelled smoke. She ran out to her bal­cony, looked down and saw flames five floors be­low her.

“The fire just blew up and went fly­ing right out the win­dows,” the 71-yearold Hast­ings said of the first mo­ments of the high­rise blaze. “And that was like a hor­ror movie. Ex­cept it wasn’t a hor­ror movie. It was for real.”

The flames drove her and a neigh­bor to run down 14 floors un­til they found a safe stair­well to get some air, Hast­ings said.

The build­ing is vast and wave-shaped, and it has sev­eral sec­tions. The blaze was mostly con­fined to a sin­gle sec­tion. Only the units im­me­di­ately above it and to the side of it were evac­u­ated, while many res­i­dents stayed in­side.

Most evac­u­a­tions went calmly and smoothly, se­cu­rity guard Leonard Rosa said. The fire depart­ment said Satur­day morn­ing most res­i­dents will be al­lowed to re­turn home, but the 26th to 28th floors will re­main closed be­cause of ex­ten­sive fire, wa­ter and smoke dam­age to about a dozen apart­ment units.

Marco Gar­cia / Associated Press

A Honolulu Fire Depart­ment he­li­copter flies near the blaze that burned out of con­trol on the 26th floor of the Marco Polo apart­ment com­plex Fri­day in Honolulu. “The fire just blew up,” one res­i­dent re­called.

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