Honolulu high-rise had no sprin­klers to stop fire

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY AVI SELK avi.selk@wash­post.com

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.

MARCO GAR­CIA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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