At least three people died and 12 were injured Friday in a fire at a Honolulu high-rise that was not equipped with sprinklers, authorities said, and hundreds fled the giant condominium complex as smoke billowed from the upper floors.
The dead were found on the 26th floor, where the fire broke out around 2:15 p.m. and then spread to the 28th floor of the Marco Polo residences, Fire Chief Manuel Neves said.
Firefighters were searching the damaged areas to make sure no additional people died.
The 36-floor building near Waikiki 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,” he said.
Four of the injured, including a firefighter, were hospitalized in serious condition, officials said.
Karen Hastings, 71, was in her 31st floor apartment when the fire broke out. She smelled smoke, ran on to 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,” Hasting 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 not,” Hastings said.
Fire burned more than four hours
The building is vast and wave-shaped, and has several sections. The blaze was mostly confined to a single section, and only the units immediately above it and to the side of it were evacuated, while many residents stayed inside.
The blaze was still burning some four hours after it broke out, but it was down to mostly embers by then, official said.
Most evacuations went calmly and smoothly, security guard Leonard Rosa said.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city needs to look at passing a law requiring older buildings be retrofitted with sprinklers.
“The biggest argument is the affordability,” Caldwell said. “Residents have to pay. It’s pretty expensive. But if it saves a life and it’s your life, it’s worth the cost.”
No one from the building said they remembered recent fire drills, but Anna Viggiano, who lives on the sixth floor, said there were some after a 2013 fire that broke out two floors above her. She said since then she doesn’t hesitate to evacuate when she hears the alarm.
“It was scary,” she said. “It was terrifying.”