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Live: Loafers Lodge fire- police treating the fire as suspicious

Vita Molyneux and Nick James,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 May 2023, 2:28pm

Live: Loafers Lodge fire- police treating the fire as suspicious

Vita Molyneux and Nick James,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 May 2023, 2:28pm

Police are now treating the Loafers Lodge fire, which killed at least six people, as suspicious.

Inspector Dion Bennett, the acting Wellington District Commander, said police are now the lead agency for the fire investigation and “we can confirm that we are treating the fire as suspicious”.

Yesterday, Fire and Emergency NZ assistant national commander Bruce Stubbs also said the fire was being treated as “suspicious”.

Following a health and safety assessment, police officers hope to enter the Newtown building this afternoon to begin a scene examination.

 “This scene examination will be an extensive and methodical process, and we expect it to take some time – likely several days,” Bennett said.

Alongside the scene examination, officers will also be working to locate and recover those who lost their lives in the fire.

“We know there are many people waiting for news of family and friends – including the residents who escaped the fire and are keenly waiting for news of their fellow tenants,” Bennett said.

“I again want to provide the reassurance that we have a large number of officers working on this investigation, with the aim of providing them the answers they need as quickly as possible.”

Police have also confirmed there was a couch fire at Loafers Lodge at about 10.30pm on Monday night, prior to the second fatal fire which occurred about two hours later.

The couch fire was not reported to emergency services at the time, Bennett said.

“As part of our enquiries, we will be seeking to confirm any link between that couch fire and the subsequent fatal fire,” he said.

Police officers spent the day at Newtown Park yesterday, speaking to evacuated residents.

“However, we are aware that there may be residents who were evacuated from Loafers Lodge who went to other locations following the fire, and haven’t been at Newtown Park,” Bennett said. “We want to speak to those residents, along with anyone else who may have information which could assist our enquiries.”

Earlier, a survivor from the deadly fire described the chaos and confusion of the midnight blaze.

Simon Hanify was awake in the hostel when a fire alarm rang out through the building at around 10.30pm - but he said this was common at the hostel.

“I didn’t leave the building, I just went out to the balcony and had a cigarette and sure enough the alarm was turned off two minutes later.”

Hanify said the alarms activated so frequently that he doubted the initial alarm would have brought people out of the building.

“It’s happened so many times where it’s either a cooking thing or someone smoking in bed – most people, when we have to evacuate, just to stand on the street for a bit and get sent back in – most people don’t even leave their rooms.”

Hanify was still awake when the second alarm rang out – this time at 12.30am. And this time, it was not a false alarm.

“I smelled a bit of smoke so went straight to the kitchen thinking someone had left a pot on – no smoke in the kitchen and in that 20 seconds, I came out and there was smoke in the hallway I could smell the acrid burning smell of plasticky material.”

He had been through a house fire before and knew it was real so ran around the floor, knocking on people’s doors and urging them to evacuate.

Simon Hanify survived the Loafers Lodge blaze in Newtown, Wellington. Photo / George Heard

Simon Hanify survived the Loafers Lodge blaze in Newtown, Wellington. Photo / George Heard

By the time people were moving, Hanify said thick smoke was filling the hallway all the way up to the ceiling.

“The smoke was billowing out the top windows – really thick, black horrible smoke.”

As the fire crews turned up, the flames erupted from the building.

“They were licking out of those windows, double the height and all the way up to the roof,” Hanify said.

By 4am Hanify said fire crews had pumped so much water into the building it was “cascading” out of the windows – but the fire continued to burn.

It wasn’t until today that the gravity of the situation set in.

“We didn’t know there was going to be loss of life – it was upsetting, there was a fair bit of anger – it was so intense and just thanks to the fire brigade and that.

“I feel really sad especially for the families and yeah, shocked. It was more shocking the next day finding out about the deaths – at the time it’s just get the people out.”

He counted himself lucky, as he was able to leave the building with his phone and wallet, as well as wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

“A lot of people were in nightgowns and bare feet. A lot of people have no ID, everything they own is burned.”

Police expect to enter the charred hostel today where at least six people died to begin searching for those who perished and to investigate what is one of New Zealand’s deadliest fires.

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