After A Fire In A Honolulu High-Rise Killed 3 People, The Mayor Has Introduced A Bill To Mandate Sprinkler Systems

The new legislation would require fire-sprinkler systems in all high-rise residential buildings on Oahu.

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Three days after a massive blaze tore through a condominium complex in Hawaii, killing three people, the mayor of Honolulu has introduced legislation that would require fire-sprinkler systems in all residential high-rise buildings.

The Marco Polo building where the fire took place, which is just blocks from Oahu's famous Waikiki Beach, was built in 1971, just four years before the city passed a law requiring sprinkler systems to be installed in high-rises.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell's bill would require that all buildings over 75-feet tall without automatic sprinkler systems be retrofitted.

"We know the Marco Polo fire would likely not have spread if the building had sprinklers," Caldwell said in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News. "We also know that many Oahu families struggle to pay for affordable housing, and we are working with the City Council to find ways to help homeowners pay for this lifesaving upgrade."

Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves also signed off on the bill. After the fire on Friday, Neves said that the blaze would have been contained in the unit where it started if the 36-floor building had had sprinklers.

The fire started in a unit on the 26th floor, before quickly spreading across the building and damaging at least three floors, the Honolulu Fire Department said on Monday, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

The three people killed in the fire were identified as Britt Reller, a 54-year-old manager for Hawaiian Airlines; his 87-year-old mother, Jean Dilley; and Joann Kuwata, a 71-year-old retired dental assistant. None of the victims lived in the unit where the fire originated, the fire department said.

At least a dozen other people were hospitalized, and hundreds more were evacuated.

There are approximately 300 high-rise apartment buildings on Oahu which currently do not have a fire-sprinkler system, according to the fire department.

Lawmakers considered mandating sprinklers in 2005, but many condo boards in buildings without sprinkler systems were hesitant to pay for the expense — which could run into the millions for larger buildings — and a law was never passed.

In 2013, a fire at the Marco Polo caused more than $1 million in damage to two apartments, but there were no injuries. Afterward the building, which has 586 units, said that an estimate concluded it would cost about $4.5 million, or roughly $9,000 per unit, to install automatic sprinklers throughout the building, the Star-Advertiser reported.

Honolulu's mayor just introduced a bill to require sprinklers in all high-rise residential buildings after fatal fi… https://t.co/Smon6Or8Ix

The mayor addressed the costly price of retrofitting old buildings in his letter to Honolulu City Council Chairman Ron Menor, who must still introduce the bill to the City Council.

"While fire sprinklers may cost the unit owners a few thousand dollars to install, they can save a life and prevent significant property damage in the event of a fire,” Caldwell wrote. "This bill will help to ensure that life and property are continually safeguarded from the hazards of fire."

Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.

Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at michelle@buzzfeed.com.

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