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Loafers Lodge fire: Man rescued from roof describes scramble to safety

Author
Melissa Nightingale,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 May 2023, 2:24pm

Loafers Lodge fire: Man rescued from roof describes scramble to safety

Author
Melissa Nightingale,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 May 2023, 2:24pm

A man rescued from the roof of a burning hostel in Wellington says he can barely eat and sleep after the traumatising incident.

Toetu Saili had planned to move out the day before a deadly fire broke out in Loafers Lodge, Newtown, but hadn’t had a chance to talk to the building manager yet, so was still there in the early hours of Tuesday last week. He had been living there for about four months.

The fact he was still in the building is something that now haunts Saili, who tries not to remember the “wild” and “raging” fire he scrambled to escape from.

The fire started - allegedly by arson - about 12.30am that morning, and killed at least five people. Police do not have a confirmed number of dead due to the difficulty in searching through the debris in the charred building on Adelaide Rd.

A 48-year-old man has been charged with two counts of arson over the blaze.

He appeared in the Wellington District Court on Friday and was granted interim name suppression and remanded in custody to reappear in court next month.

Saili’s room was on the top mezzanine floor. He was asleep that night and woke to fire alarms going off. He came out of his room but saw nothing, so went back to sleep.

“I’m used to those alarms going off because someone’s either smoking or cooking,” he told the Herald.

Toetu Saili was rescued off the roof of Loafers Lodge.

Toetu Saili was rescued off the roof of Loafers Lodge.

The alarm he heard is understood to be that of a small couch fire on the third floor, that did not eventuate to anything and was not reported to Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

Saili was awoken again about 12.30 to the alarms blaring, but this time he knew something was wrong. His room was filled with smoke and the floor he was lying on was hot.

“I went to open the door to come out through the hallway. The whole place was engulfed with smoke.”

Smoke was rushing up the stairs and Saili said he could see flames in the room opposite his in the hallway.

He retreated into his room and called 111.

“The guy I was talking to told me ‘if you stay in your room, get as low as you can’.”

But the floor was getting even hotter and the smoke was becoming thicker.

“I couldn’t breathe anymore, I had to get out.”

He started winding open his bedroom window, managing to create what he estimated to be about a 30cm opening. Saili did not think he would fit through, but was able to squeeze out of the gap and on to the roof outside.

“I wasn’t going to die in that fire,” he said.

Across the other side of the roof he could see a fire truck with a ladder reaching up to the roof. He made his way over and banged on the cage atop the ladder until a rescuer noticed him, and brought him to safety.

Saili said all that was going through his mind as he tried to escape the burning building was: “I’m dying, I’m definitely dead.”

He said when he was rescued he felt a mixture of emotions. “Relieved I was still f***ing breathing. Angry because I lost all my shit.”

The scene outside Loafers Lodge after the deadly fire that swept through the building on Adelaide Rd, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The scene outside Loafers Lodge after the deadly fire that swept through the building on Adelaide Rd, Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Since then, he hasn’t been able to sleep or eat properly due to the trauma he suffered, and said his thoughts were always somewhere else.

“I shut my eyes for a minute and I’m back in that place,” he said.

He tries not to think of the fire, but said it was “bad”.

“It was wild. It was raging.”

He regrets not moving out, but hadn’t wanted to lose his bond money by moving without talking to the manager first.

“Shoulda woulda coulda,” he said.

“I should have moved the day before. I should have heeded that f***ing warning when I woke up first... there’s a lot of what ifs.

“All I want to do is get back [to the hostel] and see if my room’s all right. I don’t think so.”

He said it was “really sad” that people had died in the fire.

“Nobody went to sleep that night thinking they would die.”

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