New Zealand police investigating arson, homicide in hostel fire probe
Sydney, Australia May 17 (EFE).- A fire that engulfed a Wellington hostel, killing at least six people, is being treated as arson and a homicide inquiry has been launched, New Zealand police said Wednesday.
Fire broke out at Loafers Lodge, a 92-room accommodation building in the capital’s suburb of Newtown at about 12.30 am local time Tuesday morning (14:30 GMT Monday) .
“Because it’s an arson (investigation) and there are deaths involved, it is a homicide inquiry,” Inspector Dion Bennett, acting Wellington District police commander, said in a livestreamed press conference.
Earlier, police said in a statement that there had been a couch fire at the lodge at 10.30 pm on Monday night, two hours prior to the fatal fire. It was not reported to emergency services.
No arrests have been made, but police have a list of people of interest they want to speak to.
The death toll stands at six, Bennett said, and an unknown number of bodies remain inside the building, which the fire service has now handed over to police to begin its investigation.
“We have accounted for ninety two people and the number still to be accounted for is less than twenty,” he said.
A reconnaissance team has entered the building to develop a plan for an intensive examination expected to begin on Thursday, and likely to take several days given the large size of the building, Bennett said, adding that the task that police were about to undertake was “grim.”
“I can say, having seen some early photographs, that the damage is extensive, that in some of the floors, and on the third floor in particular, the roof has collapsed and that in places on the floor, pile of debris and burnt debris is stacked as high as one meter,” he said.
“Alongside the scene examination, officers will be working to locate and recover those who have lost their lives tragically in this fire.”
On Tuesday, authorities said the building was not equipped with sprinklers, and the country’s building code does not require them to be retrofitted in older buildings. It had passed inspection earlier this year.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Wednesday announced a review into building regulations for high density accommodation.
The lodge has accommodation, communal lounges, laundry rooms and kitchens on each of the three floors of above ground level, according to its website. EFE