Marco Polo High Rise Fire

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The Marco Polo high rise fire took place on July 14, 2017 at the 36-story residential condominium building on Kapiolani Boulevard in Honolulu. Four people were killed and at least 12 were injured as a result of the blaze. Three died in the initial fire. The fourth person, an 81-year-old woman who was stuck in her condo for four hours during the fire, died weeks later, on Aug. 3, 2017. A spokesperson for the Honolulu medical examiner told Civil Beat the woman’s death was a result of smoke inhalation.

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The Fire

The first emergency call about the fire took place at 2:17 p.m., and firefighters were still working to put it out more than five hours later. Investigators said the fire broke out in unit 2602, on the 26th floor, and damaged or destroyed about 200 of the building’s 568 units.

The Honolulu Fire Department said more than 120 firefighters — or about one-third of the department — responded to the seven-alarm blaze. The fire did more than $100 million in damage, according to the department.

Victim Names

Four people died as a result of the fire:

  • Britt Reller, 54
  • Melba Jeannine Dilley, 85
  • Joanna Kuwata, 71
  • Marilyn Van Gieson, 81

Building Safety Problems

Sprinklers Never Installed

The building, constructed in 1971, did not have a sprinkler system, which fire officials said would have undoubtedly quickly stopped the blaze and prevented it from spreading. The state fire code was updated in 1975 to require sprinkler systems in high rise structures, but efforts to force pre-1975 era buildings to meet the code were defeated in the face of strong lobbying by building associations and others who said the retrofits would be too costly.

Fire Alarms

Several residents of the building said they didn’t hear alarms go off during the fire or didn’t realize what they were hearing. A 2013 report by the engineering firm S.S. Dannaway found the building’s fire alarms were outdated. Alarms in the units weren’t loud enough, the report said, and the firm recommended adding speakers in the main living areas and bedrooms of every condominium. The updates were never made.

Investigation

More than two months after the fire, the Honolulu Fire Department had yet to release its final report on the investigation. Department spokesperson Capt. David Jenkins said the severity of the fire and the fact that more than 100 firefighters were involved contributed to the length of time it was taking to complete the report.

Officials declined to say what caused the fire until the report was released, but Jenkins said there was no indication the fire was set intentionally or caused by cooking.

Marco Polo High Rise Fire
New Council Proposal Cuts Back Fire Sprinkler Requirements Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

New Council Proposal Cuts Back Fire Sprinkler Requirements

Only about half as many high rises built before 1975 would have to be retrofitted under an amended version of the measure.

What Started The Marco Polo Fire Remains A Mystery Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

What Started The Marco Polo Fire Remains A Mystery

Honolulu fire investigators know where the Honolulu high-rise fire started and how it spread, but not what caused it.

Some Honolulu High Rises Don’t Need Sprinklers, Fire Safety Panel Says Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Some Honolulu High Rises Don’t Need Sprinklers, Fire Safety Panel Says

Residential buildings could each be evaluated to determine if a sprinkler retrofitting is necessary, a City Council committee is told.

Firefighters Union Protests Lack Of Information On Marco Polo Investigation Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Firefighters Union Protests Lack Of Information On Marco Polo Investigation

The Honolulu Fire Department knows the cause of the fire, but is refusing to reveal it — even to their own firefighters — until reports are finalized.

Denby Fawcett: 5 Ways Hawaii Condo Dwellers Can Protect Themselves Courtesy of Brigida Schmidt

Denby Fawcett: 5 Ways Hawaii Condo Dwellers Can Protect Themselves

The fatal Marco Polo fire taught some hard lessons but also provided a wake-up call for residents of high-rise buildings.

Denby Fawcett: Big Questions Still Smolder Two Months After Marco Polo Fire Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Denby Fawcett: Big Questions Still Smolder Two Months After Marco Polo Fire

Investigators haven’t revealed the cause of the fatal high rise blaze. The building has adequate insurance, says a specialist, but displaced residents are frustrated.

Honolulu Council Sends Sprinkler Retrofit Bill To Advisory Panel Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Honolulu Council Sends Sprinkler Retrofit Bill To Advisory Panel

A new committee will study which high rises are at greatest risk, fire safety technology and financial incentives for condo owners.

Marco Polo Fire: Taxpayers Should Help Pay For High-Rise Sprinklers Caleb Hartsfield/Civil Beat

Marco Polo Fire: Taxpayers Should Help Pay For High-Rise Sprinklers

Retrofitting old buildings with sprinklers and other vital safety measures is clearly in the best interest of all of us.

Marco Polo Building Had Outdated Fire Alarms When 3 Died In Blaze AP

Marco Polo Building Had Outdated Fire Alarms When 3 Died In Blaze

An engineering firm had recommended updates after another fire four years ago, according to city records.

Council Members Put Mayor’s Call For Sprinkler Retrofitting On Hold Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Council Members Put Mayor’s Call For Sprinkler Retrofitting On Hold

They approve a call for a fire safety group established more than 10 years ago to reconvene.

Many US Cities Still Have High-Rise Buildings Without Sprinklers Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Many US Cities Still Have High-Rise Buildings Without Sprinklers

American cities have a mixed bag of laws on whether older buildings, particularly residential buildings,   must be retrofitted.

Insurance May Not Be Enough For Some Marco Polo Condo Owners Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Insurance May Not Be Enough For Some Marco Polo Condo Owners

After the deadly Honolulu high-rise fire, some banks say they are also offering help to meet mortgage payments.