Most high-rise residents will be allowed back following fire in Honolulu building

Law enforcement officers stand at the scene of a multi-alarm fire at a high-rise apartment building in Honolulu, Friday, July 14, 2017. Dozens of firefighters are battling the fire at Marco Polo apartments that Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. David Jenkins said started on the 26th floor and has spread to other units. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

HONOLULU (AP) — Karen Hastings was in her 31st floor Honolulu apartment when she smelled smoke. She ran out to her balcony, looked down, and saw flames five floors below her.

“The fire just blew up and went flying right out the windows,” the 71-year-old Hastings said of the first moments of the high-rise blaze that killed at least three people and injured 12. “And that was like a horror movie. Except it wasn’t a horror movie, it was for real.”

The fire broke out Friday afternoon in a unit on the 26th floor, where all three of the dead were found, Fire Chief Manuel Neves said.

The building known as the Marco Polo residences is not required to have fire sprinklers, which would have confined the blaze to the unit where it started, Neves said. The 36-floor building near the tourist mecca of Waikiki was built in 1971, before sprinklers were mandatory in high-rises. It has over 500 units.

Late into the night as embers smoldered, firefighters were searching the damaged areas to make sure no additional people perished. The names of the victims haven’t been released.

Hastings said the fearsome flames drove her and a neighbor to run down 14 floors until they found a safe stairwell to get some air.

“We actually saw a person laying on a ledge and I don’t know whether he made it not,” Hastings said.

The building is vast and wave-shaped, and has several sections. The blaze was mostly confined to a single section, and only the units immediately above it and to the side of it were evacuated, while many residents stayed inside.

The blaze was still burning some four hours after it broke out as the sun set, but it was down to mostly embers by then, official said. A shelter was set up at a nearby school where about 50 residents had gathered late in the evening.

Most evacuations went calmly and smoothly, security guard Leonard Rosa said. The fire department said Saturday morning most residents will be allowed to return home, but the 26th-28th floors will remain closed because of extensive fire, water and smoke damage to about a dozen apartment units.

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