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Monday, February 5, 2001

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Flames shoot out of a 14th-floor apartment at 927 Prospect St.
this morning. No one was injured. See story, below.

Two high-rise
fires ignite call for
sprinkler systems

Woman escapes 14th-floor fire

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

A dramatic condominium fire on Prospect Street this morning was just several hundred yards away from the Ward Avenue apartment of city Councilman Jon Yoshimura.

While he doesn't need to be convinced that there should be tougher sprinkler laws, "Viewing the incident with my kids made us realize the potential dangers and made us think about what we would do in case of a fire like that," he said.

Fire officials, meanwhile, renewed their call for retrofitting all of Honolulu's older high-rises with water sprinklers.

Today's apartment fire was the second involving a Honolulu residential high-rise in two days. An elevator in a Waikiki condominium was set ablaze yesterday. Neither building is equipped with a sprinkler system.

This morning's fire at 927 Prospect St. probably would have been contained to the area of origin if there had been a sprinkler system, Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Richard Soo said.

"We're very active in the stance that there's a need now for a retrofit for all high-rises to have a sprinkler system," Soo said. "The cost in the long run is justified."

The Council has been looking into legislation requiring sprinkler systems in all high-rises since a fire ravaged the First Interstate Building last April 1.

Yoshimura, one of the more vocal Council members calling for sprinkler retrofitting, witnessed this morning's fire with his two sons, 13 and 12. The Yoshimuras live in a building that does not have sprinklers.

He said he met with fire officials just two weeks ago on the issue, said a task force of condominium and commercial property owners, engineers, Council members and city officials is set to reconvene in coming weeks.

The committee had been on hiatus while fire officials researched what was being done elsewhere, he said.

Two bills are being proposed -- one addressing business and commercial buildings, the other residential condominiums and apartments. Both would require structures 75 feet or taller to have sprinklers.

There are an estimated 347 high-rises on Oahu that do no have sprinkler systems -- 35 commercial and 312 residential structures. All were built prior to 1975, the year a new law required new high-rises to have sprinklers.

Yoshimura said there appears to be consensus on a bill to require sprinklers for commercial buildings, since there are fewer of them and property owners could obtain insurance breaks.

Stronger resistance has come from residential condominium and apartment owners.

Jane Sugimura, president of the Hawaii Council of Associations of Apartment Owners, said her organization continues to believe that residential buildings are "relatively safe.

"While we would encourage building owners who want to retrofit to do it, we don't feel it should be mandated," Sugimura said. "It's a very expensive process."

An ordinance that would require only that sprinklers be in lobbies and other common areas, she said, would not have helped reduce the damage of this morning's fire.

The current proposals require retrofitting be done in five years. To ease the burden on property owners, Yoshimura said, the Council is looking at stretching out compliance to a 10- or 15-year period.

Star-Bulletin writer Rosemarie Bernardo contributed to this story.

Woman, 75, escapes
14th-floor fire

By Rosemarie Bernardo and
Gregg K. Kakesako

A 75-year-old woman escaped from a 14th-floor apartment that burst into flames this morning.

Flames were shooting out of apartment 1403 when firefighters arrived at 927 Prospect St. shortly after the initial call at 7:17 a.m. There were no injuries.

Map Smoke from the fire on the makai side of the 16-story condominium could be seen from downtown Honolulu.

"It was very, very black smoke," said Ken Isaka, who moved into apartment 1603 -- two floors above the fire -- with his wife Hiroko and one-year-old daughter last week.

The fire gutted one bedroom and the living room of the two-bedroom, one-bath apartment.

"Fire lapsed out into the open air and lapsed up into the higher apartment, causing minor exterior damage to room 1503 and 1603," said Fire Department spokesman Capt. Richard Soo.

The building, which did not have a sprinkler system, was not evacuated. But while elevators were operating, firefighters had to climb the stairs to get to the fire.

"High-rise fires are the hardest to fight," Soo said.

Eight fire companies and 32 firefighters responded to the fire. Firefighters had the blaze under control at 7:35 a.m. Investigators were still trying to determine the cause of the fire this morning and there was no damage estimate.

The area of Prospect Street between Magazine Street and Ward Avenue was closed for most of the morning because of the fire.

The woman's 63-year-old husband, who is employed at Fort Shafter, left for work at 4 a.m. but returned after he was notified of the fire. The couple had no comment, Soo said.

The American Red Cross was notified to assist the couple with shelter, food and clothing.

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