HONOLULU, Hawaii - At least three people died and 12 were injured Friday in a fire at a Honolulu high-rise that was not equipped with sprinklers, authorities said, and hundreds fled the giant condominium complex as smoke billowed from the upper floors.

The dead were found on the 26th floor, where the fire broke out around 2:15 p.m., said Fire Chief Manuel Neves. Neves said the Marco Polo apartment complex does not have fire sprinklers, CBS affiliate KGMB-TV reports.

The blaze spread to at least the 28th floor and several units, said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. David Jenkins. He said the number of fatalities could change.   

Firefighters were searching the damaged areas to make sure no additional people perished. 

The 36-floor building near the tourist mecca of Waikiki was built in 1971, before sprinklers were required. 

"Without a doubt if there were sprinklers in this apartment, the fire would be contained to the unit of origin," he said. 

Four of the injured, including a firefighter, were hospitalized in serious condition, officials said. 

The building is vast and wave-shaped, and has several sections. The blaze was mostly confined to a single section, and only the units immediately above it and to the side of it were evacuated, while many residents stayed inside. 

The blaze was still burning some four hours after it broke out as the sun set, but it was down to mostly embers by then, official said. 

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city needs to look at passing a law requiring older buildings be retrofitted with sprinklers. 

"The biggest argument is the affordability," Caldwell said. "Residents have to pay. It's pretty expensive. But if it saves a life and it's your life, it's worth the cost." 

No one from the building said they remembered recent fire drills, but Anna Viggiano, who lives on the 6th floor, said there were some after a 2013 fire that broke out two floors above her. She said since then she doesn't hesitate to evacuate when she hears the alarm. 

"It was scary," she said. "It was terrifying."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.