At least three people were killed and 12 injured after a fire broke out in a high-rise apartment building in Honolulu, Hawaii .
Thick black smoke and flames could be seen coming from the Marco Polo building near Waikiki after the fire started on the 26th floor on Friday afternoon. The blaze quickly spread two floors higher, sending debris, including glass, window frames and chunks of balconies to the street below.
“We have a very tragic situation with three confirmed fatalities,” said the city’s mayor, Kirk Caldwell, as authorities warned there could be more casualties in a building that was not fitted with sprinklers.
The fire department later said 12 people were treated for injuries, and five were transported to hospitals in serious condition. On Saturday, the department said most residents would be able to return, but three floors would remain closed because of heavy smoke, water and fire damage.
One resident, Karen Hastings, was in her 31st-floor Honolulu apartment when she smelled smoke. She ran out to her balcony, looked down, and saw flames five floors below her. “The fire just blew up and went flying right out the windows,” the 71-year-old said. “And that was like a horror movie. Except it wasn’t a horror movie, it was for real.”
Firefighters went door-to-door to search for people who might have been trapped in the blaze which started some time after 2pm, with the initial call to emergency services at 2.15pm. The three dead were found on the 26th floor of the building, which has 568 apartments.
Emergency service workers said they took at least five people to hospital. A number of other people were treated at the scene and refused to be taken to the hospital, fire officials said. The fire was brought under control by 6.30pm, by a team of 100 firefighters, the mayor said.
The building was constructed in 1971, before the city began requiring sprinkler systems and mandating them for high-rises built after 1974, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper said.
Coming weeks after fire killed at least 80 people in the Grenfell Tower fire in London, residents said the fire might not have spread so far if the building had been fitted with sprinklers.
DEVELOPING: Evacuations underway at high-rise building in Honolulu after four-alarm fire erupts. (Video by Greg Walker.)
July 15, 2017
Dorothy, who has lived in the building since 1974, said: “I wasn’t that nervous when I was leaving because it looked like it was under control, but then when I saw the flames were up and had spread to the ocean side, that made me nervous. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything is ok in my apartment.
“I think we should have sprinklers added. I don’t think the fire would have come across to the other side if we had sprinklers.”
(@Mike_Goodlander)60+ firefighters battling a 5-alarm fire in a residential condo in Honolulu. #HIfirepic.twitter.com/y3ouU9ttfvJuly 15, 2017“We could see smoke billowing out already and the ground was scorched outside the stairwell,” said Patrick Williamson, who lives on the 32nd floor with his two sons, aged 10 and 12. They evacuated when they smelled smoke.
“I feel worried, concerned and a little angry,” he said. “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.”
Another resident, Delaney Spaulding, said: “There’s a lot of elderly people in the building. There was a 78 year old that came down from the 27th floor disoriented. She had no cell phone no shoes, no purse, but I think she came down the stairs. She was disoriented and all by herself until her family came for her.”
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 shouted through megaphones for people still inside to come down, Yasuda said. He watched as people were carried out.
One resident who declined to give his name said he made it to safety after climbing the stairs from the 29th floor. The man said there was so much smoke, he could hardly see.
Honolulu fire chief Manuel Neves said if there had been sprinklers, the fire would not have spread past the unit where it started.