National News

Cause of deadly fire still days away

Posted July 18

— Fire investigators will be working for days, most likely through the end of the week, to determine the cause of the deadly Marco Polo blaze.

They will also be working alongside other local and federal investigators.

Fire investigators have pinpointed the start of the fire to a unit on the 26th floor: unit 2602.

One witness, who didn't want his name used, described what he saw from inside that unit as the fire first spread.

"The alarms were going off, so I thought something was burning in the kitchen. I went into the kitchen and the floor in front of the window exploded into fire. There was already black smoke in the room, so we were just crawling as fast as we could until we got past the smoke, and then we were running for the stairs."

Smoke pouring out of the building could be seen for miles, leading some to question what was burning inside the concrete structure.

"There is a lot inside the unit that is flammable, and will burn. Cabinets, carpet, all the furniture are all flammable," said national building safety expert Lance Luke.

Our trade winds may have helped to fuel the fire and cause problems for hundreds of residents inside the Marco Polo.

"It is great when there are trade winds, you just open your door. But Friday the trade winds blew fire and smoke right through the building and so the fire just spread like that," said Marco Polo resident Wm. R. Brown.

Another problem during the fire is the design of the building. Instead of each unit having a mauka and makai side, the units are in rows. So after the fire started in unit 2602, the trade winds spread not just the fire but also the thick black smoke to units downwind.

"When you have apartments on either side, if you have space at the entry doors, if there is smoke or fire it could spread across the hallway into the next unit," said Luke.

The massive blaze burned for hours, leaving a huge hole of destruction in the middle of the building. It also left some wondering about the structural integrity of the Marco Polo.

Fire crews feel it is safe to continue their investigation and experts agree: while the building looks badly damaged -- it is still sound.

"Reinforced concrete can withstand fire so there shouldn't be any problem with the failure of the building but it will take years and millions of dollars to repair," said Luke.

Even though the building is structurally safe, it is still hazardous right now. Residents who are able to return to units on burnt or waterlogged floors are only able to do so wearing masks and hardhats.

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