Marco Polo High Rise Fire

| Suggest an Edit

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.

Contents

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 A 2013 report by the engineering firm S.S. Dannaway found the building’s fire alarms were outdated.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
Arson Dogs Search For Ignitable Liquids in Marco Polo Unit Where Fire Started Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

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

A Fire Department official said the search does not necessarily mean there is a criminal element to the investigation.

Ian Lind: Does The Risk Justify The Cost Of Sprinklers In Older High-Rises? Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

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

Until now, the answer has been “no.” But the tragic fire in the Marco Polo condominiums could change the equation.

Industry Cancels Celebration Of Ban On Sprinkler Requirements

Industry Cancels Celebration Of Ban On Sprinkler Requirements

The Legislature recently extended its prohibition on counties requiring sprinklers in single-family homes and duplexes.

Fire Department Finds Unit Where High-Rise Fire Began AP

Fire Department Finds Unit Where High-Rise Fire Began

UPDATED: Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the blaze that killed three people at the Marco Polo condominiums.

Some Residents Couldn’t Hear Alarms In Deadly High-Rise Blaze Marco Garcia/AP

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

UPDATED: The three who died in the fire were all found on the 26th floor of the Marco Polo building, which had no sprinkler system.

Caldwell Supports Adding Sprinklers To Older High-Rises In Wake Of Fire Brenton Awa/KITV

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

Previous efforts to require high-rises to have fire sprinklers have failed, in part due to the cost of installing them.

Some High-Rise Residents Allowed To Return Home After Deadly Honolulu Fire Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

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

UPDATED: Three people died in the blaze at the 36-story Marco Polo building, which was built in 1971 and had no sprinkler system.