(Star Advertiser) Oahu’s third deadly fire this month sparks discussion on precautions residents can take

(Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

  • DAN NAKASO / DNAKASO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A burned home on Owene Lane.

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A 61-year-old man with limited mobility died in a high-rise apartment on Kalakaua Avenue before midnight Thursday in the third fatal fire this month in Honolulu, a cluster that is focusing attention on prevention.

The blaze came fast on the heels of deadly house fires in Kalihi and Pauoa Valley, and was the seventh fatal one since the inferno at the Marco Polo condominium on July 14, 2017.

Fire officials and the American Red Cross, a humanitarian nonprofit that helps victims of disasters, say people need to understand the risks of fire and take preventive action ahead of time, with smoke detectors, sprinklers and escape plans.

“You really need to be able to get out of your home in two minutes,” said Maria Lutz, Pacific islands regional disaster officer for the Red Cross. “People don’t think of that. People think about preparing for hurricanes or a tsunami, but when it comes to a home fire, people often don’t think about it much.”

The circumstances of Thursday’s fire at 1541 Kalakaua Ave. near King Street are still under investigation. Firefighters found the victim in unit 1802, where he lived alone, and he was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Honolulu Fire Capt. Scot Seguirant. The victim’s name has not yet been released.

“He had limited mobility due to a prior stroke,” Seguirant said.

Smoke was pouring out of the 19-story building when firefighters arrived at 11:25 p.m., and they extinguished the fire by 11:46 p.m., Seguirant said. Damage was estimated at $129,000 to the unit and its contents. Several neighboring units were also damaged in the building, which is managed by the Hawaii Public Housing Authority.

Seguirant said that 4 out of every 5 fires take place in residences, whether single- family homes or apartment buildings.

“That’s why we advocate for fire sprinklers,” he said. “They will control the fire, stop it from spreading, and many times it has actually put the fire out. But at the very minimum it will stop it from spreading and give people more time to notice that there’s a fire and react to it and get out.”

“We do like smoke alarms, also,” he said. “They will indicate that there is a problem, and that’s critical. However, if you are not able to move, we really like the sprinklers because it’s going to buy you time.”

On July 5, Adela Bumang­lag, 75, who lived on the second floor of a house on Haumana Place in Kalihi, suffered second-degree burns to her face and torso in a fire that broke out next door in a different home that shared a common wall. She died of her injuries July 11 at Straub Burn Center.

Fire officials found insufficient evidence to determine what caused the blaze in the adjacent house, although they said 14 people were home at the time. Investigators could not determine whether there had been working smoke alarms, Seguirant said, and there were no sprinklers.

On July 13 a fire broke out at about 8:45 a.m. in the second-story unit of a house on Pauoa Road near Booth Park, killing April Anderson, 55, and her two cats. Her longtime partner, Kerry Linthicum, who was doing volunteer work at the time, said Anderson suffered from insomnia and had taken an Ambien sleeping pill early that morning. The residence didn’t have working smoke alarms or fire sprinklers, Seguirant said.

Lutz advised residents to install smoke detectors in or outside of each bedroom, as well as near the kitchen, and to make sure everyone can exit quickly.

“It’s important that people know what to do independently, kids and the elderly,” she said. “They need to be able to act for themselves. That can be very challenging.”

Lutz said the Red Cross works closely with the Fire Department and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to help seniors install smoke alarms.

The fire at the 36-story Marco Polo on Kapiolani Boulevard in 2017 claimed four lives and caused more than $100 million in damage to 200-plus units. Three of the victims lived on the 26th floor, across the hall from where the fire started, and an 81-year-old woman, six floors above, inhaled smoke while waiting to be rescued and later died. The condominium was built in 1971, before sprinkler systems were required for such buildings.

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