Oxygen tanks
suspect in fatal fire

Residents help save the life of
a woman at a Waikiki high-rise

A man died and a woman is in critical condition after a fire swept through their sixth-floor Waikiki apartment late Friday night, according to fire officials.

As of late yesterday, the medical examiner had still not identified the man described as in his 50s. The woman, who several neighbors said was an elderly invalid, also was not identified.

The fire at the Coral Terrace Apartments at 2222 Aloha Drive was reported at 10:36 p.m., and fire units were on the scene within four minutes, according to fire Capt. Kenison Tejada. Eight companies with about three dozen firefighters responded to the two-alarm blaze.

The fire was under control by 11:07 p.m.

"We're still investigating the cause. The whole unit is gutted," said fire investigator Terio Bumanlag, his face covered with soot and sweat as he took a break around lunchtime yesterday to finally eat his breakfast.

"We believe it started in the master bedroom," Bumanlag said.

Tejada said that when firefighters arrived, flames could be seen shooting out of the windows of apartment 604 and licking up the sides of the building.

Neighbors reported they heard some explosions and firefighters later found several oxygen tanks the woman used for medical reasons in the apartment.

"Possibly one or more tanks exploded," said Tejada.

He said firefighters found the victim, who had burns over 85 percent of his body, in the front doorway of the apartment.

The woman was saved by the quick action of several young men who were staying in an apartment on the ninth floor.

Raymond and Joseph Heaukulani and a friend, Bobbie Baer, were making their way down the stairway when they stopped and opened the door to the sixth floor.

Tejada said the three carried the woman to the lobby. She was then rushed to Straub Clinic and Hospital.

Tejada said damage to the burned-out apartment is estimated at $200,000 and more than $25,000 for its contents. Damage assessments are still being made elsewhere in the building. Units above apartment 604 sustained smoke damage and those below received water damage.

Two families whose apartments were damaged have been given shelter at a hotel by the American Red Cross. A third family is staying with friends, fire investigators said.

Tamara Yamaguchi, who lives in the eighth floor apartment directly over unit 604, said her apartment and her two cats are covered in soot.

"I won't leave the apartment because I won't leave my cats," she said. "But it's just filthy and everything is covered in soot."

Yamaguchi said she was sound asleep Friday night when the building's alarms sounded and she heard people shouting in the building behind her. She dressed quickly and along with other residents walked down the narrow stairway to the street.

The fire was the second in two days to hit a high-rise building. On Thursday morning, fire destroyed five apartments in an 11-story complex at 1634 Makiki St.

Neither high-rises have automatic sprinkler systems, which were not required when they were built. City building code requires all new high-rises to have sprinkler systems.

Firefighters encountered heavy smoke and zero visibility in fighting the Waikiki fire, Tejada said. Each floor has four units that share a small common hallway. He said cramped space in the halls and lobby made it difficult for firefighters to work.

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