HONOLULU- Three people are reported dead, including a mother and her adult son, after a multiple-alarm fire broke out at a Honolulu high-rise apartment building, the Marco Polo, at 2:30 p.m. local time. Dozens of firefighters were called to the scene.
According to Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. David Jenkins, the blaze at the 36-story Marco Polo apartments began on the 26th floor, but quickly spread to other units and the 27th and 28th floors.
Karen Hastings reports that from her apartment on the 31st floor, she saw windows below her blowing out, with glass exploding and falling to the ground.
“The fire just blew up and went flying right out the windows,” 71-year-old Hastings said. “And that was like a horror movie. Except it wasn’t a horror movie, it was for real.”
The fire was confined to a single section. Only the units immediately above it and to the side were evacuated. Evacuated residents report that it was difficult to see their way through the thick, black smoke. Authorities say most residents evacuated safely, although at least 12 people required medical help.
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Capt. Jenkins reported that firefighters went door-to door to locate residents who were unaccounted for in the 568 unit building.
By 5:15 pm local time, nearly 100 firefighters were on scene to contain the blaze. Some firefighters stood on nearby balconies to spray water on the flames. The fire was brought under control at about 6:30 p.m. local time.
According to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, the high-rise was built in 1971, and was not equipped with sprinklers. The building was not required to have them because it was built before sprinklers were mandated.
Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves said “without a doubt” sprinklers would have prevented the fire from spreading past the “unit of origin.”
Resident Cory La Roe, a soldier stationed in Hawaii with the Air Force, says he didn’t know that the building didn’t have a sprinkler system. “That’s one thing that I wasn’t aware of prior to moving in,” La Roe said. “It was definitely shocking for me to know that there weren’t any sprinklers installed in the building.”
Mayor Caldwell said the city should investigate passing a law that requires 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.”
The Marco Polo fire is the second large scale apartment fire to make headlines, separated by only a month. The first was at London’s Grenfell Tower in mid June.
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