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Third-floor resident Joe Otto said he smelled smoke but did not know where it was coming from. Then he noticed his neighbor from Unit 605 screaming from across the street and running back into the building.
"He yelled, 'My house is on fire,'" Otto said. "After that, I looked up and saw the smoke and flames. I tried clearing everyone on my floor by knocking on their doors. ... I stayed as long as I could, but I wanted to get out, too."
Paramedics said the resident in Unit 605 was treated for first-degree burns to his hands and some to his face, and for smoke inhalation. A 33-year-old woman living in Unit 608 across the hall was also treated for smoke inhalation. Both were taken to Straub Clinic & Hospital.
"It was crazy," said Kapahulu resident Dwain Uyeda. "Flames were shooting out of the building."
Neighbor Kelly Kempczenski said she could feel the heat from across the street. "The debris was falling, the wood was burning, people yelling," she said.
Firefighters used a ladder to reach a couple on the eighth floor who could not get out. Fire officials said they stayed with the residents in 801 until they could walk them out.
"They were calling for assistance, and we extended our aerial ladder and, as soon as it was safe to do so, escorted them down a stairwell exit," HFD spokesman Capt. Emmit Kane said.
"They said their means of exit -- the hallway -- was full of smoke, so they stayed in place. Physically they were OK, but I think mentally they might have been distressed," he said.
Firefighters controlled the fire by 12:23 p.m. Fire investigators have not determined what caused the flames, but Otto said his neighbor acknowledged leaving his stove on.
"He left a pot on the stove and went across the street," he said. "I've known the guy for years and years and years. ... He's got a friend in the hospital right now, and so he's got a lot on his mind. He just forgot."
Police closed off portions of Ekela and Lukepane Avenue while firefighters battled the blaze. Kane said the building does not have sprinklers and is a perfect example of an old structure that should be updated.
"You can see how quickly the fire spread," he said. "Sprinklers would have at least slowed the fire if not extinguished it completely."