No major injuries were reported and the blaze was extinguished after about half an hour.

There were no sprinklers when a fire broke out Thursday, shooting flames and black smoke from the 14th floor of a condo tower in Ala Moana, but the residents knew what to do.

Recently installed fire alarms and a public address system called on them to evacuate, and so they did.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze at the Woodrose Condominium building at 780 Amana St. after about half an hour, and nobody was seriously injured, according to the Honolulu Fire Department.

But it was a reminder of the dangers facing hundreds of older highrises in Honolulu that still lack modern safety features such as sprinkler systems more than six years after a fire at the Marco Polo condominium tower killed four people.

 

Honolulu Fire Department Battalion Chief Brady Perreira talks with the media after extinguishing the Wood Rose Apartment fire at 780 Amana St. Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, in Honolulu. The fire burned an apartment on the 14th floor. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Honolulu Fire Department Battalion Chief Brady Perreira talks with the media after extinguishing the Woodrose apartment fire in Ala Moana. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Hawaii has only required sprinklers in residential highrises since 1975 and most of the buildings erected before then were grandfathered under the old rules.

The Woodrose was built in 1967 during the post-statehood construction boom. The cost of retrofitting these old buildings with sprinklers is generally over $1 million; the Marco Polo on Kapiolani Boulevard spent about $5 million doing so after its deadly 2017 fire.

While that fire and others prompted calls for change, many older buildings have been slow to make changes especially given the costs.

Last year, the 143-unit Woodrose was among almost 300 residential buildings that did not meet an “acceptable” fire safety standard, according to a Honolulu Fire Department report to the City Council.

However, many residents said a public address system was installed with speakers in each unit and that helped ensure a relatively smooth evacuation.

A resident on the 16th floor looks down at a 14th floor unit at the Wood Rose Apartments which caught fire Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, in Honolulu. The 14th floor is technically the 13th floor. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Residents were allowed back into the building about an hour and a half after the fire began. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

“I think they were trying to plan to install,” said Ron Kim, who said he often goes back and forth between his home in Kahaluu and his daughter’s unit in the Woodrose. “But it’ll take a while.” 

“They just recently installed the fire alarm system where it vocalizes the emergency thing,” said Kim. He said that management had been testing it a lot recently though, so he didn’t realize at first that it was a real emergency.

“My wife and I, we thought it was a testing thing. So we kind of took our time. Then what happened was I looked out on the balcony, and I noticed all the people at Pagoda” – the hotel across the street on the mauka side – “they were all with their cameras taking pictures above,” Kim said.

At about 10:30 a.m. the Woodrose’s on-site property manager Lisa Bortle began informing residents that the fire department had given the OK to reenter the building, as long as they stay away from the 14th floor. As in many apartment buildings, the building doesn’t have a 13th floor because it’s considered bad luck.

Bortle declined to comment when reached later in the day. Moana Siaki, the management executive listed as a contact for the Woodrose by the Hawaiiana Management Co, did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

Honolulu Fire Department command unit monitors the Wood Rose Apartment fire at 780 Amana St. Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, in Honolulu. An apartment on the 14th floor caught fire earlier in the morning. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
A Honolulu Fire Department command unit monitors its response to the Woodrose, across the street from the burnt building. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

A cause has not yet been determined, according to Fire Battalion Chief Brady Perreira. Fire investigators started collecting evidence after the flames were extinguished. 

Perreira said the only resident who needed medical treatment was cut while evacuating down the stairs. This person was treated by Emergency Medical Services staff, said Perreira. 

A little after 11 a.m., Perreira radioed that residents were allowed back into all areas of the building except for the apartment where the fire started, 1401, and the units directly below and above it: 1201 and 1501. 

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