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Worst Honolulu high rise fire prompts questions about need for sprinkler systems

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HONOLULU -

For hours, residents watched their building burn.

The Marco Polo Apartments exploded scattering broken glass and metal down on the streets below.

A city watched in horror as smoke and flames bellowed out on both sides of the high rise.

Some residents can’t get what they heard and saw out of their minds.

"I walked on the lanai and I looked down and the sad part is, I heard three women screaming continuously for five to ten minutes,” said Ron Chiarottino.

"I smelled like gasoline and a few minutes later, I heard the fire alarm. The elevator stopped so I walked down the 19th floor and all this smoke. It was really awful,” said Dorothy Umeda, who lives on the 19th floor.

“The fire alarms went off and there was a lot of smoke. We could hear someone telling people telling people to stay put and then we got out," said Eric Meyer who lives on the 3rd floor.

The fire Department told Island News that the building only equipped with sprinklers in the garbage chutes.

Buildings built before 1975 aren’t required to have sprinkler systems.

One resident said at a recent association meeting, they discussed retrofitting the building, but some said the estimates for more than $1.5 million was too much.

HFD has long maintained sprinklers save lives.

"Without a doubt, if there were sprinklers in this apartment, the fire would be contained into the unit of origin," said Honolulu’s Fire Chief Manuel Neves.

Maybe now, lawmakers will require that all builds be retrofitted.

"They will need legislation to do that in our older high rise building, it’s something that deserves review with fire's input and also with our legislators,”  said Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

But residents are still in shock trying to cope knowing now that neighbors have died and they are don’t know what they will go home to, and once they go back in, how safe will it be?

"They could use sprinklers. These kinds of things are scary particularly with what happened with London,” said Meyer.

"I am fine. I am scared but the worst part is that I lose everything," said Chiarottino.

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