HONOLULU — As smoke filled his 26th-floor apartment in Honolulu, a Hawaiian Airlines manager made one final telephone call to his brother, the brother says, before both the man and his mother were killed in the blaze.
Pearl City Community Church Pastor Phil Reller told The Honolulu Star-Advertiser police confirmed that two of the three victims killed in the blaze Friday are his mother and brother.
Reller told the newspaper he received a call from his brother, Britt Reller, 54, saying he had been taking a shower when he smelled the smoke. He rushed out but was unable to get to their 85-year-old mother, Melba Jeannine Dilley. He had crawled under a bed and wasn’t heard from again, his brother told the newspaper.
Britt Reller had worked as an in-flight manager for Hawaiian Airlines for two years. In an emailed statement to The Associated Press on Saturday, Robin Sparling, vice president of in-flight services at the airline, said Reller “was a talented manager and caring co-worker and we will miss him terribly. Our hearts are with Britt’s brother, Phil, and his entire family.”
The fire broke out 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.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city needs to look at passing a law requiring older buildings be retrofitted with sprinklers.
Photos taken Saturday by a KITV reporter show the charred remains on the 26th floor. The images show a hallway leading to the unit where the deceased were found, KITV told The Associated Press. There are puddles of water on the floor, black and grey soot covering the walls and ceilings, and burnt debris scattered about.
One photo shows the burnt entranceway to an apartment where a three-tiered table stands among the ashes and charred debris. Support beams can be seen sticking out through sunken, burnt-out walls in the entranceway. What appears to be a fire hose is shown on the floor in a large puddle of water. Another photo from a nearby apartment shows a sooty door with a large hole above the doorknob.
Melanie Takeyama, who lives on the 7th floor, said she came into her apartment around 2 a.m. Saturday and there was only a little bit of water inside, but when she returned later the entire apartment was soaked.
“It was terrible, my sofa is soaked, my living room, the bathroom, the bedroom, the kitchen, everything is just wasted,” she said.
Bruce Campbell, who manages an apartment on the 33rd floor, said he walked down the stairwell to where the fire started.
It “was a very eerie experience,” he said. “When we got to 28 and looked in, it’s like a war zone in there, it’s completely burnt out.”
The building is vast and wave-shaped, and it has several sections. The blaze was mostly confined to a single section. Only the units immediately above it and to the side of it were evacuated, while many residents stayed inside.
Cory La Roe, who is from Florida and stationed in Hawaii with the Air Force, works night shifts and was asleep when sirens woke him at about 2:15 p.m.
La Roe said he didn’t hear any verbal announcements, and there were no flashing fire alarm lights in the building. But “after I saw people running out and went out to the hallway, I knew it was a fire alarm,” he said.
He didn’t realize that the building didn’t have a sprinkler system and was surprised that was the case.
Gordon Kihune lives on the 13th floor of the Marco Polo apartments and has lived in the building for about 12 years. He says he hasn’t seen any fire extinguishers or hoses in the building that he can remember, and didn’t hear the alarms going off when the fire broke out.
He said he “only recognized the fact that there was something wrong when I saw the fire trucks pull up, and then I poked my head out, then I could hear the alarm.”
No one from the building said they remembered recent fire drills. But Anna Viggiano, who lives on the 6th floor, said there were some after a 2013 fire that broke out two floors above her. Since then, she doesn’t hesitate to evacuate when she hears the alarm, Viggiano said.
Douglas Hesley, branch president of Associa Hawaii, the management group that runs the Marco Polo building, said in a brief statement Saturday that there will be an emergency board meeting to discuss recovery efforts.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Marco Polo community,” he said.
Hesley said he could not comment on past fire drills or safety plans that were in place at the time of the fire.
Robert Solomon of the National Fire Protection Association said high-rise building code should require an emergency plan to describe what the fire alarm sounds like and provide residents with an evacuation diagram of the closest exit to their unit.
“The directions would say use the exit stairs and descend three or four or five levels below and then wait in a hallway,” Solomon told The Associated Press.
By then, firefighters would have arrived to provide additional instructions, including a fire chief or command officer deciding whether to get everybody out or get people off additional floors.