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Fire disrupts 1,800 at Hilton

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About 1,800 guests were evacuated from the 1,000-room Tapa Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort yesterday after smoldering materials in a 15th-floor room sent smoke into the corridor.

There were no injuries, said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Kenison Tejada, and physical damage appeared confined to the room, although other rooms were affected by smoke.

The fire was caused by an unattended candle in the room, Tejada said.

But the guest occupying the room was not one of hundreds of guests in the tower who won their trip to Hawai'i and the Hilton for meeting sales goals in a company that sells candles, Tejada said.

The guest in the room where the fire started, a Schofield Barracks soldier, had a towel wrapped around his waist while he talked with fire investigators in the lobby.

The guest, who said he didn't want to comment on what had happened, was soon given a kimono-type robe by hotel staff.

The fire caused an estimated $24,000 worth of damage, Tejada said.

Hilton Senior Vice President Peter H. Schall said no flames were reported seen, and that temperatures in the room did not rise high enough to trigger the hotel's automatic fire protection sprinkler system.

"The evacuation was very well done," said hotel guest Linda Bolduc of Lowell, Mass., one of hundreds of PartyLite candle and gift sales company "consultants" who won their trip to Hawai'i for their "Let It Shine" celebration by meeting sales
goals.

Hotel staff speaking through loudspeakers on each floor "told you exactly what was going on, and that we should evacuate the building, using the stairs, and not to use the elevators."

The first thing that crossed Bolduc's mind when she heard the announcement, she said, was "I'd better unplug the iron" she was using to press some clothes for an "I gathered up my things that I had right by the door, and thought, 'This is real,' and left the room," she said.

"We all in orderly fashion went down the stairs. It got slower and more crowded as we went down the stairs and people from the lower floors came into the stairwell," she said.

Bolduc guessed it took her about five or six minutes to reach the ground from the 14th floor; others had to walk down as many as 31 flights after the alarm was sounded just after 4 p.m.

Schall praised his staff, and Fire Capt. Tejada also was pleased with the hotel's response to the emergency.

"They did a really good job," Tejada said, "and all their procedures were in place."

One guest, PartyLite consultant Tom Babcock of Marquette, Mich., who was staying on the 15th floor, said thick smoke filled the corridor from the ceiling down to a point about his shoulder height.

"We had to duck down to get under it," he said.

An ambulance called to the scene at about the same time was for another guest who had suffered an asthma attack while in a bar on the ground floor, but his situation was not related to the smoke, one hotel official said.

Lani Bjork of Hilton's safety and security staff invited people occupying the 32 rooms on the 15th floor to come to the Shell Bar in the main lobby to be given rooms elsewhere in the hotel if they wanted them.

"You will be the sole judge of whether any of your things have been damaged by smoke," Bjork told the guests sitting in the bar.

"You are our first priority, and we will respond to whatever concerns you have," she said.

Most guests — many of them in swimwear — patiently crowded into the lobbies, where bars and restaurants did a brisk business during the two-hour evacuation, orwalked out into the village to shop.

There was a surge in sales reported down the street at Lappert's ice cream parlor.

 
 
 
 
   
 
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