Flames spread through a Makiki high-rise yesterday.

Makiki high-rise fire
destroys 5 apartments

The three-alarm blaze leaves
11 homeless and kills two cats

Makiki resident Ernest Winchester stood on the balcony of his ninth-floor apartment checking on the weather yesterday morning when he saw smoke coming from below.

Winchester went to the ground floor and saw more smoke billowing from an apartment two floors below his unit.

He alerted the resident manager, who triggered the building's fire alarm as Winchester rushed to his apartment to get his wife, Hwa Cha Mun.

Moments later, flames had spread to five apartments, including Winchester's. "Everything is gone," he said.

Twelve companies responded to the three-alarm fire at the Consulate, an 11-floor, 66-unit building at 1634 Makiki St. The fire, reported at 10:20 a.m., could be seen from many miles away as more than 50 firefighters battled the flames. The fire, contained to five units, was extinguished a little more than an hour later. Smoldering debris littered the parking lot. The American Red Cross gave food and clothing to all 11 people displaced by the fire and provided shelter to two of the five families.

But a fire official and some residents said the flames could have been contained to one unit if the building had a sprinkler system.

"This is one of those cases where an automatic sprinkler would have probably stopped it in the apartment of origin," said Capt. Kenison Tejada, spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department.

City building code requires all new high-rises to have sprinkler systems. Owners of all hotel and business high-rises built before the city law took effect were later required to add sprinkler systems to their buildings. The Consulate -- a residential high-rise -- was built in 1965 without a sprinkler system and is not required to undergo a retrofit.

Police sealed off the street while firefighters battled a blaze yesterday at the Consulate, a residential high-rise in Makiki.

"We were afraid something like this was going to happen," said City Councilman Gary Okino.

Condominium owners have resisted attempts to require retrofits because of the high cost.

Okino, chairman of the Council's Public Safety Committee, put together a task force last month to come up with ways to encourage condo owners to retrofit their buildings.

"Maybe this might make a difference in the task force," Okino said.

A sprinkler system was in everybody's minds.

"It could've stopped the fire on the floor it started on," Winchester said as he stood on the sidewalk looking up at his blackened apartment.

Firefighters from the Makiki Station were at the Consulate two minutes after receiving the call, Tejada said. "But by that time the fire had already broken through, and there was an intermittent stiff breeze so the fire just picked up. Couldn't stop it," he said.

There were no injuries, but the blaze killed two cats in Unit 701, the source of the fire. The fire destroyed Unit 701, four corner units above and all of their contents. The fire's cause and damage estimate have yet to be determined.

Comforted by neighbors, Winchester's wife wailed in despair as she sat outside the building and watched firefighters assess her charred unit.

Winchester said they lost many valuables, including video images of his grandchildren and his mother-in-law, who recently died.

Steven Casano and his son, Luca, live on the top floor of the 11-floor Consulate high-rise. They made it down a fire exit along with their cat, Keili.

"It can't be replaced," he said, but "we got out. That's the main thing."

The fire left many residents shaken.

"I was in shock. I couldn't believe it was happening," said Avis Ing, who owns an apartment directly below Unit 701.

She moved into her unit in October after an extensive renovation.

"I have a beautiful piano, a baby grand," she said, but she did not know if any of her things had survived. Firefighters could not enter her unit because the heat from above had apparently melted her front door shut.

Steven Casano was home with 16-month-old son Luca in Unit 1102 when he smelled smoke. Then he heard yelling from outside. "Someone in the parking lot was yelling at me, or yelling at the building, 'Get out, get out. There's a fire,'" Casano said.

He hurried down the fire escape with his son and cat Keili, which he was able to place into a pet carrier.

Officers Ronald Lopes Sr. and Malcom Lutu carried disabled resident Dorothy Lee out of her third-floor apartment building while she sat in her wooden chair and as smoke filled her apartment.

"They had to carry me out," said Lee, a two-year resident in the building.

Honolulu Fire Department

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