Investigators determine 3-alarm Moiliili fire sparked by electrical problem

Elderly man in critical condition after evacuating condo during 3-alarm fire

MOILIILI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Fire Department investigators have determined that Saturday’s high-rise fire in Moiliili was accidentally started by an arc in a lighted display case inside an apartment.

That unit sustained an estimated $524,000 in damage. The man who lives there was not home at the time the flames broke out.

Officials are still working on damage totals for other apartments in Rainbow Place that were affected by smoke or water.

“I do know speaking to a few residents that water used in the fire trickled all the way down to the 16th floor,” said Angela Keen, board president.

Flames were reported just after 10 a.m. at the 21-story highrise located on Kuilei Street.

According to EMS officials, an 83-year-old man was able to evacuate the building and was waiting across the street in a safe area when he reportedly collapsed. HFD says he went into cardiac arrest.

Medical officials responded and administered CPR. They added that the man did not come in contact with smoke or flames while he was in the building.

He was taken to an area hospital and later died.

During the fire, smoke was seen billowing from the top floor of the condo. Photos and videos sent to Hawaii News Now show the flames burning in a top floor, corner unit.

“I came out and said, ‘Oh my gosh. Let’s just get out.’ I smelled it immediately and knew I had to move quickly,” resident Georja Skinner said.

After the fire was extinguished, Skinner was allowed to briefly return to her apartment to grab her medication and other essential items.

“(There’s) a lot of smoke damage on the walls. Initially, not too bad, but the entire floor was flooded,” she said. “It was just really devastating to see that kind of damage.”

HFD says 58 fire personnel total responded to the scene. At one point, residents on the top floor of the building were evacuated.

“I started seeing a little bit darker smoke coming from that corner of the unit so that’s when I immediately ran over to his unit and knocked on the door and rang the doorbell to see if he was okay, no answer,” neighbor Daniel Kellarney said.

It was reported that a resident smelled smoke on the fire floor, activated the fire alarm, and reported it via 911. Residents exited the building through stairwells, HFD said in a news release.

Flames were seen in a unit on the top floor of the building.
Flames were seen in a unit on the top floor of the building. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

Additional assistance had to be called to the scene as it took firefighters about an hour to fully extinguish the flames.

It was deemed fully extinguished just before 11 a.m.

The building was not equipped with a fire sprinkler system, according to HFD.

“Having a fire sprinkler probably would have contained the fire a lot sooner to minimize damage to the unit and to the other units,” HFD said at the scene. “There’s just one unit that’s really damaged, but there’s smoke damage throughout probably the floor.”

The condo’s board of directors had previously looked into installing fire sprinklers, but they were deemed to be too expensive.

Many of the residents are retired and on fixed incomes.

The building’s property management company, Associa Hawaii, is working to determine the next steps in the recovery and restoration process.

In a statement, Andrew Fortin, senior vice president of external affairs, wrote: “Our immediate focus is on our residents and working to help those affected by the fire. Associa Cares, Associa’s national non-profit organization, has earmarked an initial $25,000 to assist Rainbow Place homeowners affected by the fire through direct grants."

Residents affected by the fire are encouraged to email info@associacares.com for more information on how to apply for funding or see Associa staff who will be onsite in the evenings.

Residents in nearby towers watched as the flames burned through the unit.
Residents in nearby towers watched as the flames burned through the unit. (Source: Joel Bradshaw)

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