At least 3 dead in Honolulu high- rise fire

Lack of sprin­klers in build­ing made in­ci­dent worse, fire of­fi­cial says

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Doug Stan­glin

An 85- year- old woman and her adult son were among at least three peo­ple who died in a bil­low­ing fire at a Honolulu high- rise not equipped with sprin­klers, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports.

At least 12 peo­ple were in­jured in the fire that en­veloped the up­per floors of the 36- floor Marco Polo con­do­minium com­plex near the tourist mecca of Waikiki. Four of the in­jured, in­clud­ing a fire­fighter, were hos­pi­tal­ized in se­ri­ous con­di­tion, of­fi­cials said.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple fled the gi­ant condo com­plex as smoke en­gulfed the wave- shaped build­ing.

Honolulu Fire De­part­ment Chief Manuel Neves said ex­treme con­di­tions made the stair­well at one end of the build­ing “un­ten­able,” forc­ing the evac­u­a­tion of fire­fight­ers them­selves two or three times, the Honolulu Star

Ad­ver­tiser re­ported. The dead were found on the 26th floor, where the fire broke out around 2: 15 p. m. be­fore spread­ing to the 28th floor, Neves said.

The blaze was mostly con­fined to a sin­gle sec­tion of the com­plex, and only the units im­me­di­ately above it and to the side of it were cleared, while many res­i­dents stayed in­side.

The fire de­part­ment said Satur­day morn­ing that most res­i­dents would be al­lowed to re­turn home, but the 26th- 28th floors would re­main closed be­cause of ex­ten­sive fire, wa­ter and smoke dam­age to about a dozen apart­ment units.

Phil Reller, pas­tor at the Pearl City Com­mu­nity Church, told the

Star- Ad­ver­tiser that po­lice con­firmed that his 54- year- old brother, Britt, and their 85- year- old mother died in the fire.

Reller said his brother called to say the fire broke out while he was in the shower and that he rushed to res­cue his mother but couldn’t reach her.

The brother then said he crawled un­der a bed, ac­cord­ing to Reller, who said he did not hear from him again.

The huge com­plex, which fea­tures sev­eral sec­tions, was built in 1971, be­fore sprin­klers were re­quired.

“With­out a doubt if there were sprin­klers in this apart­ment, the fire would be con­tained to the unit of ori­gin,” Neves said.

A study was con­ducted six years ago to de­ter­mine how much it would cost to retro­fit the build­ing with sprin­klers, but a sys­tem was never added, KHON- TV re­ported.

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

“The big­gest ar­gu­ment is the af­ford­abil­ity,” Cald­well said. “Res­i­dents have to pay. It’s pretty ex- pen­sive. But if it saves a life and it’s your life, it’s worth the cost.”

Karen Hast­ings, 71, was in her 31st- floor apart­ment when the fire, which burned for four hours, broke out.

She smelled smoke, ran onto her bal­cony and looked down to see flames be­low her.

“The next thing we know the fire causes the win­dows to blow out, and we can see glass fly­ing all the way down,” Hast­ings said. “I says, ‘ my good­ness, any­body who is out­side is go­ing to get clob­bered with glass.’ ”

Then, she said, “the fire just blew up and went fly­ing right out the win­dows. And that was like a hor­ror movie. Ex­cept it wasn’t a hor­ror movie, it was for real.”

She and a neigh­bor ran through the haze down 14 floors un­til they found a safe stair­well to get some air.

“We ac­tu­ally saw a per­son lay­ing on a ledge and I don’t know whether he made it or not,” Hast­ings said, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press.

Most evac­u­a­tions went calmly and smoothly, se­cu­rity guard Leonard Rosa said.

Mitch Silva, who lives on the 29th floor, said the evac­u­a­tion of the build­ing was “very or­ga­nized. No panic, no noth­ing,” Hawaii News Now re­ported.

Cory La Roe, who is from Florida and sta­tioned in Hawaii with the Air Force, works night shifts and was asleep when siren sounds awak­ened him about 2: 15.

“First thing, I was kind of dis­ori­ented and con­fused about what was go­ing on, so I looked out my win­dow and saw peo­ple run­ning away from the build­ing, look­ing back to­ward it.”

La Roe said he didn’t hear any ver­bal an­nounce­ments and there were no flash­ing fire alarm lights in the build­ing, but “af­ter I saw peo­ple run­ning out and went out to the hall­way, I knew it was a fire alarm.”

He saw an el­derly cou­ple come down who looked “sooty” and were taken to the hos­pi­tal. He saw other peo­ple brought out on stretch­ers.

“If there were sprin­klers in this apart­ment, the fire would be con­tained to the unit of ori­gin.” Manuel Neves, Honolulu Fire De­part­ment Chief

PHO­TOS BY MARCO GAR­CIA, AP

On­look­ers stand on a side­walk as a fire burns at the Marco Polo apart­ment com­plex in Honolulu.

A Honolulu Fire De­part­ment he­li­copter flies near the Marco Polo apart­ment com­plex.

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