HONOLULU (AP) — A Hawaiian Airlines in-flight manager called his brother as smoke filled his 26th-floor apartment in Honolulu before he and his mother lost their lives in the blaze, the man’s brother said.
Pearl City Community Church Pastor Phil Reller told The Honolulu Star-Advertiser that 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.
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 by public safety authorities.
Photos taken Saturday by a KITV (http://www.kitv.com ) 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 across the floor.
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.
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. “And that was like a horror movie. Except it wasn’t a horror movie. It was for real.”
The fearsome flames drove her and a neighbor to run down 14 floors until they found a safe stairwell to get some air, Hastings said.
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.
The blaze was still burning about 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 to 28th floors will remain closed because of extensive fire, water and smoke damage to about a dozen apartment units.
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. “First thing, I was kind of disoriented and confused about what was going on, so I looked out my window and saw people running away from the building, looking back toward it.”
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.
“That’s one thing that I wasn’t aware of prior to moving in,” La Roe said. “It was definitely shocking for me to know that there weren’t any sprinklers installed in the building.”
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city needs to look at passing a law requiring older buildings be retrofitted with sprinklers.
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.
“It was scary,” she said. “It was terrifying.”
Associated Press writers Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu contributed to this story.
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