HONOLULU — Karen Hastings was in her 31st floor Honolulu apartment when she smelled smoke. She ran out to her balcony, looked down, and saw flames five floors below her.

“The fire just blew up and went flying right out the windows,” the 71-year-old Hastings said of the first moments of the high-rise blaze that killed at least three people and injured 12. “And that was like a horror movie. Except it wasn’t a horror movie, it was for real.”

The fire broke out Friday afternoon in a unit on the 26th floor, where all three of the dead were found, Fire Chief Manuel Neves said.

The building known as the Marco Polo residences is not required to have fire sprinklers, which would have confined the blaze to the unit where it started, Neves said. The 36-floor building near the tourist mecca of Waikiki was built in 1971, before sprinklers were mandatory in high-rises. It has over 500 units.

Late into the night as embers smoldered, firefighters were searching the damaged areas to make sure no additional people perished. The names of the victims haven’t been released.

Hastings said the fearsome flames drove her and a neighbor to run down 14 floors until they found a safe stairwell.

“We actually saw a person laying on a ledge and I don’t know whether he made it not,” Hastings said.

The building is vast and wave-shaped, and has several sections. The blaze was mostly confined to a single section.