RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
A Honolulu firefighter looked out from the balcony of an apartment in the building where a fire burned at the Ala Moana Tower at 1617 Kapiolani Blvd.
Residents make noise
after ‘quiet’ fire guts
In the rush to flee a high rise fire at a Kapiolani Boulevard apartment building yesterday, no one remembered to pull the fire alarm, leaving other residents unaware of the blaze until it was well underway, a fire department spokesman said.
"If there's a safety tip to be learned in this, it's as you're leaving the building, pull one of the fire alarms," said Honolulu Fire Capt. Kenison Tejada. "That way your neighbors" will be alerted.
No one was injured in the 2 p.m. blaze that caused $140,000 in damage to the two-bedroom apartment and left one man homeless.
When firefighters arrived at the Ala Moana Tower at 1617 Kapiolani Blvd., black smoke and flames were shooting out of unit 1702 and dozens of residents had already gotten out of the high-rise and were standing nearby.
But because the building's fire alarm was never pulled, some residents were alerted to the blaze only when smoke in the corridors of the upper floors began to get thick, Tejada said.
Firefighters went door-to-door in the tower's 15th through 18th floors, making sure everyone got out.
Toko Aoki lives just across the hall from the gutted unit, and says she didn't know about the blaze until a firefighter knocked on her door and pulled her out. By that time, her neighbor's apartment was almost fully engulfed in flames.
"I could smell something, but thought, 'It's not this building,'" she said. "The alarm didn't go off."
Tejada said firefighters tested the building's alarm after the blaze to confirm that it worked.
"We had them sound it off," he said, "and it was ... loud."
The building was not required to have a heat or smoke sensor alarm, and it did not have a sprinkler system, Tejada said. A representative with the apartment building's business manager, Sunny Isles Properties, Inc., could not be reached for comment yesterday.
"I've lived here for a long time and I've heard the alarm go off" during drills, said resident Mark Hughes. "Unfortunately, when there was actually a fire, it was the one time it didn't go off."
He said he decided to evacuate with his wife after smelling smoke and seeing fire trucks pull up to the apartment.
Brian Burbank and Devon Zoller, who live next to unit 1702, said they did hear an alarm -- apparently an apartment smoke detector. But they only evacuated after smelling smoke themselves.
"There was a lot of smoke, and we heard a crash," Burbank said, adding that the occupant of the gutted unit moved in about a week ago.
"We didn't even know there was a fire in the building," said Lisa Togiai, who lives on the 15th floor with her husband and young children. "I'm uncomfortable right now given that there was no alarm (sound)."
Tejada said the blaze was contained to one unit, but emergency crews took extra precautions in the event it could spread.
"We're just always concerned when it comes to fires in a high-rise," he said. "High-rise fires are always more difficult and challenging."
Some 35 firefighters helped put out the blaze, which was under control by 2:16 p.m.
Fire investigators have not yet determined what caused the blaze.
Tejada said the apartment's tenant was not at home when the blaze erupted, and was being assisted by a friend last night.
Police also shut down a portion of Kapiolani Boulevard for more than an hour, backing up traffic near Ala Moana Center.