HONOLULU (KHON2) — A 77-year-old man and two dogs were killed in a high rise fire in Aiea Friday afternoon, Jan. 20. According to the Honolulu Fire Department, the blaze broke out around 11:30 a.m. on the 29th floor of the Lele Pono condominiums. HFD said the fire was contained to the unit and was put out before 1 p.m.
The building, which was built before 1975, did not have sprinklers installed.
Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You
The flames and thick black smoke wafting from the blaze at Lele Pono condominims could be seen for miles.
The fatal fire, in some ways, was similar to the devastating Marco Polo blaze five years prior with both condos built before 1975.
“So, this building is a non-sprinklered building and an open-air type of corridor building just like the Marco Polo condominium fire that we handled in 2017,” said HFD public information officer Capt. Malcom Medrano.
While Lele Pono was contained to one unit, the Marco Polo fire is considered one of the most destructive high rise fires in Hawaii history, with a third of the apartments in the building sustaining some sort of damage.
The Marco Polo fire spurred the Honolulu City Council to beef-up fire safety requirements for buildings constructed before 1975, 10 stories or higher.
In a statement, City Council member Val Okimoto said: “In 2017, prior to me being on the Council, Bill 69 was passed. This identified a high rise that was built before 1975 and 10+ stories to be considered high risk. With this ordinance, the Council has made it mandatory that a sprinkler system be installed in these types of residential structures or pass a fire safety evaluation.”
According to HFD, out of the 302 buildings that turned in their fire life safety evaluation in the latest report, only 29 had an acceptable score. The other 281 are currently working toward an acceptable score.
How did Lele Pono condominiums score on their safety eval?
HFD Fire Prevention Bureau Acting battalion chief Kendall Ching said “at the time that they did turn in their fire life safety evaluation, It was a non acceptable level of safety.”
According to Ching, they have until May 2030 to make the necessary fixes or May 2038 to comply if they intend to install sprinkler systems.
National building expert Lance Luke said there’s been push-back adding sprinklers due to cost.
“But, you know, how much is a life worth? You can’t put any kind of value on somebody’s life,” Luke said.
“I think we need to be proactive and not wait for the next fire or wait for another person to get killed,” added Luke.
The Marco Polo fire killed four people and a dog in 2017.
While there are some similarities between Marco Polo and the Lele Pono fire, Bobby Lee, the Hawaii Fire Association President said there are glaring differences between the two.
“Even though you’re talking about buildings that don’t have sprinklers, in [Lele Pono]. it looked like the building was set up that where the fire code rules were followed and the fire ended up being contained to one unit,” Lee explained.
But, in Marco Polo, Lee said residents had louvered doors, which went against fire code and allowed the fire to spread quickly.
“That was really the big problem why Marco Polo caused so much damage,” added Lee.
Lee said he is in favor of sprinklers; they can help save lives and put out fires.
Get news on the go with KHON 2GO, KHON’s morning podcast, every morning at 8
“But when you bypass aspects of the building construction itself, you know, there are also limitations to where even possibly sprinklers may not be able to stop the fire,” he explained.