3 dead in fire in Honolulu high-rise apartment building

Published On: July 15, 2017 11:18 AM NPT By: Associated Press

HONOLULU, July 15: At least three people died and at least 12 were injured in a fire that broke out on the 26th floor of a Honolulu high-rise Friday, and hundreds fled from the giant apartment complex as smoke billowed from the upper floors, authorities said.

The blaze at the Marco Polo apartments spread from at least up to the 28th floor and hit several units, said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. David Jenkins.

The three dead were found on the 26th floor, said Fire Chief Manuel Neves.

Firefighters say there were reports of people trapped in their units in the burning building and some residents were unaccounted for.

The conditions of the injured were not immediately clear. Four people were taken to hospitals, Honolulu Emergency Medical Services spokeswoman Shayne Enright said.

The wave-shaped building, built in 1971, was not equipped with fire sprinklers, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

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

The blaze was still burning some four hours after it broke out, but authorities said they expected to have it out soon.

The high-rise, one of several of similar height near the tourist mecca Waikiki, has 568 condominiums that sell for an average of about $560,000 and four commercial spaces. Paramedics treated several injured people and at least four people were sent to the hospital. At least 12 people needed medical help, Jenkins said.

“We noticed the smoke coming up past our unit because it was right underneath us, and after that we took off,” said Al Citron, who lives on the 32nd floor of the building. “We heard some explosions, looked down and saw the flames.”

Troy Yasuda, who lives in a building across the street, was giving water to people who evacuated. “They were choking from the smoke,” he said, adding that people told him they evacuated through dark stairwells.

Police were yelling through megaphones for people still inside to come down, Yasuda said. He watched as people were carried out.

“It’s been an orderly evacuation,” said security guard Leonard Rosa, who was answering phones from the front lobby of the 36-story building near Waikiki. Police and firefighters were going door-to-door, he said.

Some were told it was safer to remain in the building.

Peter Leng, who was standing outside the Marco Polo, said his mother, who has dementia and is in a wheelchair, was still inside with a caretaker, and had been told to stay inside.

“She’s on the 22nd floor and she’s still not out yet, she’s still inside the building. They’re telling her to stay put,” Leng told Hawaii News Now. “I cannot go in there, I want to go in there and try to rescue her, but they won’t let me,” Leng said. “I want to run up to the building but they won’t let me in.”

Fourth-floor resident Aaron Dengler and his wife were helping their elderly neighbor get to an aid station the American Red Cross set up at a nearby park. “It doesn’t help to just stand and watch,” he said.

About two hours after the fire started it looked like flames were getting bigger and it looked like the blaze was reaching the 28th floor, Dengler said. “People are getting kind of nervous now,” he said. “It’s worrisome.”

Patrick Williamson, who lives on the 32nd floor with his two sons, ages 10 and 12, says they all evacuated when they smelled smoke.

Williamson said he felt “worried, concerned and a little angry” at the situation.

“For the fire to get this out of control is a little suspicious. Either the fire department was late in response or there was something going on in that unit. Either way one wonders what happened and I feel a little bit less secure living in the building.”

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