Honolulu high-rise had no sprinklers to stop fire
A 36-story residential tower in Honolulu caught fire on Friday afternoon, killing three people and injuring at least a dozen as flames spread across three floors.
The Marco Polo tower overlooks the beachfront tourist district of Waikiki and was built in the 1970s, before sprinkler systems were required, Mayor Kirk Caldwell told reporters.
So there was nothing to contain the blaze when it started at about 2:30 p.m. on the 26th floor, according to Hawaii News Now.
Flames then spread to the floors above, Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves said at a news conference. And for hours, debris, including shards of glass and a chunk of burning wall, rained down on the streets and balconies below.
“I heard three women screaming, screaming,” Ron Chiaritino, who lives nearby, told Hawaii News Now, crying as he spoke. “And then I didn’t hear them.”
Three people were found dead near the origin of the blaze, Caldwell said.
The victims weren’t publicly identified. But a pastor, Phil Reller, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser that police confirmed that his brother and 85-year-old mother were among the dead.
Reller’s brother called him as smoke filled the condominium complex, the pastor told the newspaper. His brother was unable to reach their mother, the pastor said, and crawled under a bed before the call ended.
A firefighter and three others were hospitalized among at least a dozen injured, according to the newspaper.
“We had to evacuate our firefighters two or three times,” Neves, the fire chief, told reporters.
More than 100 firefighters helped set up a base inside the tower, just below where the flames were raging, he said. When the elevators shut down, they hauled equipment up more than two dozen flights of stairs.
They fought floor by floor, Neves said, and brought the fire under control in about four hours.
But the work continued into the evening, as firefighters scoured the building room by room for hot spots and survivors.
Karen Hastings, 71, ran with a neighbor down 14 flights of stairs before they found air clear of smoke, according to the Associated Press. On the way, they passed the floors that were on fire.
“We actually saw a person laying on a ledge, and I don’t know whether he made it not,” she said. “That was like a horror movie. Except it wasn’t a horror movie. It was for real.”
Caldwell blamed regulations that had allowed the building to remain without sprinklers, which are required in newer towers.
“The fire would have been out by now,” he said as it still raged.
Grenfell Tower in London had no sprinklers, either, according to Slate. A refrigerator caught fire in the building last month, and at least 80 people died before the flames were put out.
A Honolulu Fire Department helicopter flies Friday near the Marco Polo apartment complex overlooking Waikiki. Three people were killed, and at least a dozen were injured in the blaze, which took about four hours to contain.