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.


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 A 2013 report by the engineering firm S.S. Dannaway found the building’s fire alarms were outdated.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.


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

November 2017

Tuesday, November 14

New Council Proposal Cuts Back Fire Sprinkler Requirements

October 2017

Monday, October 16

What Started The Marco Polo Fire Remains A Mystery

September 2017

Tuesday, September 26

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

Wednesday, September 20

Firefighters Union Protests Lack Of Information On Marco Polo Investigation

Tuesday, September 19

Denby Fawcett: 5 Ways Hawaii Condo Dwellers Can Protect Themselves

Tuesday, September 12

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

August 2017

Wednesday, August 23

Honolulu Council Sends Sprinkler Retrofit Bill To Advisory Panel

Monday, August 7

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

July 2017

Friday, July 28

Marco Polo Building Had Outdated Fire Alarms When 3 Died In Blaze

Tuesday, July 25

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

Monday, July 24

Many US Cities Still Have High-Rise Buildings Without Sprinklers

Friday, July 21

Insurance May Not Be Enough For Some Marco Polo Condo Owners

Tuesday, July 18

Arson Dogs Search For Ignitable Liquids in Marco Polo Unit Where Fire Started

Ian Lind: Does The Risk Justify The Cost Of Sprinklers In Older High-Rises?

Industry Cancels Celebration Of Ban On Sprinkler Requirements

Monday, July 17

Fire Department Finds Unit Where High-Rise Fire Began

Sunday, July 16

Some Residents Couldn’t Hear Alarms In Deadly High-Rise Blaze

Friday, July 14

Caldwell Supports Adding Sprinklers To Older High-Rises In Wake Of Fire

Some High-Rise Residents Allowed To Return Home After Deadly Honolulu Fire