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More agencies join Marco Polo fire investigation

  • STAR-ADVERTISER

    Marco Polo fire clean up shots. Building damage on the Ala Wai side of building.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Kaimi, an arson dog trained to sniff out flammable liquids, stood outside the Marco Polo on Tuesday. The dog was brought to Honolulu from Hawaii island to help with the investigation.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A workman carried materials as cleanup at the Marco Polo continued Tuesday.

The high-rise fire that killed three residents and seriously injured five others damaged more than a third of the apartments in the 36-story Marco Polo, the Honolulu Fire Department said Tuesday.

Roughly 200 of the 568 units were damaged, and more than 80 received damage from flames, smoke and heat, said spokesman Capt. David Jenkins.

The department is working with federal and city agencies to find the cause of the blaze, which began in Unit 2602, where no one was injured.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Honolulu police; and the Hawaii County Fire Department with its arson dog are among the agencies the Fire Department is collaborating with to investigate the cause of Friday’s fire at the Marco Polo, 2333 Kapiolani Blvd.

“It’s still ongoing,” Jenkins said of the investigation.

Jenkins said collaboration with the agencies brings additional resources and skill sets to the inquiry. He noted ATF’s involvement in the investigation doesn’t necessarily mean criminal activity was involved.

“It’s a collaboration that is not uncommon at all with any fire investigation.”

The Hawaii County Fire Department sent its arson dog, Kaimi, trained to sniff out flammable liquids — which might indicate arson — and his handler, Battalion Chief Robert Perreira, to Honolulu to assist in the investigation.

“I don’t think they found anything,” said Battalion Chief Gerald Kosaki, who was in contact with Perreira. He said investigators may have found other indicators as to how the fire started but are not releasing any information.

Resident Agent-in-Charge Michael West of ATF said, “We offered the assistance of our laboratory facilities and anything else which may be of use to the Fire Department.”

Honolulu police Capt. Rade Vanic said police have not opened an arson investigation but explained why police fire investigators are involved.

“Whenever there is a large fire that claims the lives of people, we do our due diligence to make sure there was no foul play or suspicious circumstances,” he said. “We send our fire investigators whether there are criminal circumstances or not,” adding that if it is later determined to be suspicious or criminal, “our people are involved from the get-go.”

Honolulu fire investigators determined Monday the fire originated in Unit 2602, an apartment on the mauka side of the building.

The arson dog did search Unit 2602, but “it doesn’t mean it’s a crime scene,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the 27th floor received the worst fire damage, but the 26th and 28th floors also received major damage.

Of the 80-plus units damaged by fire, more than 30 were heavily damaged, meaning that more than half of the unit and its contents was destroyed, Jenkins said.

More than 100 units from the fire floors and below received water damage, Jenkins said.

Britt Reller, 54, and his mother, Jean Dilley, 87, died in Unit 2613, and Joann Kuwata, 71, died in Unit 2615. Both apartments are on the makai side of the building, near Unit 2602.

The Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office said the causes of death are still pending for all three victims, and it has released only Reller’s identity.

Jenkins said a portable device that functions similar to an X-ray machine will be brought in by one of the agencies later this week to examine electric appliances inside Unit 2602. The apparatus will be used to determine whether an appliance caused the fire. “The device would better examine electrical appliances on scene versus sending those appliances to a laboratory for inspection,” he said.

Jenkins added that fire investigators from private insurance companies are also involved in the effort.

The Marco Polo was built in 1971, four years before the city mandated installation of fire sprinkler systems in new high-rises.

Jenkins expressed HFD’s gratitude to all the different agencies participating in the investigation, as well as the response efforts Friday.

Many in the community also responded by opening their homes to first responders and displaced occupants, allowing the use of restroom facilities and providing food and water, he said.

“It was wonderful to see the outside response,” he said.

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