‘This is our worst nightmare,’ says Wellington emergency and fire manager.
A fire ripped through a hostel in New Zealand’s capital overnight, killing at least six people and forcing others to flee the four-storey building in their pyjamas in what a fire chief on Tuesday called his “worst nightmare.”
Fifty-two people in the Loafers Lodge Hostel in Wellington have been accounted for, but firefighters are still looking for others, said Wellington Fire and Emergency District Manager Nick Pyatt. He said they were called to the hostel at about 12:30 a.m. local time.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told the AM morning news program that he understands that six people have been confirmed dead and there are likely to be more. Police said they don’t yet have an exact count of the number of dead, although they believe it’s fewer than 10 people.
Hipkins said the building was not currently safe for police to enter and it could take authorities some time to confirm the number of dead.
“It is an absolute tragedy. It is a horrific situation,” the prime minister told reporters. “In the fullness of time, of course, there will be a number of investigations about what has happened and why it happened. But for now, the focus clearly has to be on dealing with the situation.”
Responding to comments from emergency officials that the building had no sprinklers, Hipkins said it was not currently a requirement of New Zealand’s building code for older buildings to be retrofitted with sprinkler systems.
Resident jumped from window to escape
Loafers Lodge resident Tala Sili told news outlet Stuff that he’d been surrounded by thick smoke and could feel the heat from the fire although couldn’t see the flames.
“It smelled like poison,” he said.
Sili said he jumped from a window to escape and sprained an ankle.
Other residents told reporters that fire alarms would regularly sound in the building, possibly from people smoking or overly sensitive smoke monitors, so many had initially thought it was another false alarm.
Pyatt, the fire chief, said his thoughts were with the families of those who had perished and with the crews who had responded to the blaze.
“This is our worst nightmare,” Pyatt said. “It doesn’t get worse than this.”
Cause of fire not yet known
Police said the cause of the fire was not immediately known.
Wellington City Council spokesperson Richard MacLean said it was helping about 50 people who had escaped the fire and were now at an emergency centre the council had set up at a local running track that had showers and other facilities.
He said a number of elderly people had escaped the building with only the pyjamas they were wearing.
“A lot are clearly shaken and bewildered about what happened,” he said.
The hostel provided a combination of short-term and long-term rentals, MacLean said. Though he didn’t have all the details, he said he believed it was used by various government agencies to provide emergency accommodation.
Health authorities said two people who were in the building were being treated at hospitals and both were in a stable condition. Three others had been treated and discharged, while a sixth patient had chosen to leave before getting treatment.
Loafers Lodge advertises itself as an affordable place for people to stay while they are in the capital, whether on business or needing to visit the nearby Wellington Hospital. It has 92 rooms and promotes them as being available long term.
Global Affairs Canada told CBC News that it is aware of the fire and has no reports of any Canadians affected by it.
With a file from CBC News
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