A fire ripped through a hostel in New Zealand’s capital overnight, killing at least six people and forcing others to flee in their pyjamas, in what the fire chief called his “worst nightmare”.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – An overnight fire at a hostel in New Zealand’s capital killed at least six people and forced others to flee the four-story building in their pajamas, a fire chief on Tuesday called his “worst nightmare.”
Fifty-two people left the building, but firefighters are still trying to account for others, Wellington Fire Chief Nick Piatt said.
Thala Chili, who lives in Loafers Lodge, told news agency RNZ she saw smoke coming from under her door and when she opened it she found the hallway pitch black.
“I was on the top floor and I couldn’t get through the hallway because there was so much smoke, so I jumped out the window,” Cili said.
He said falling on a roof two stories below.
“It was very scary, it was very scary, but I knew I had to jump out of the window or burn into the building,” Chiles told RNZ.
He was rescued from the roof by paramedics and treated for a sprained ankle, he said.
Loafers Lodge offered basic, inexpensive rooms with shared lounges, kitchens and laundry facilities for people of all ages. Some were placed there by government agencies and were considered vulnerable because they lacked resources or support networks.
The hostel is in an industrial area and has billboards on one side. Dark smoke stains spread over the outer walls of the upper floor of the building.
Piatt said firefighters were called to the hotel around 12:30 a.m. Emergency officials said the building did not have fire sprinklers, which Premier Chris Hipkins said is not required in New Zealand’s building code for older buildings.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known, police said.
Residents told reporters that the building often sounds fire alarms, perhaps from smokers or hypersensitive smoke detectors, so many initially thought it was another false alarm.
Hipkins said the building is not safe for police to enter at this time and it may take some time for authorities to confirm the death toll. On the AM morning news program he said he understood six people had died and the death toll could rise. Police said the death toll was believed to be less than 10, but did not have an exact number.
“It’s an absolute tragedy. It’s a terrible situation,” the prime minister told reporters. But for now, the focus should clearly be on handling the situation.
Health officials said two people in the building were being treated at hospitals and were both in stable condition. Three others were treated and discharged, while a sixth patient chose to leave before receiving treatment.
Fire Chief Piatt said his thoughts are with the families of those who died and the crews who saved those they could and tried to save those they couldn’t.
“It’s our worst nightmare,” Piatt said. “It doesn’t get any worse than this.”
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard McLean said city and state officials helped the 50 people who survived the fire and set up a running track with showers and other facilities at the emergency centre.
He said many elderly people fled the building in their pyjamas.
“A lot of people are clearly shocked and confused about what happened,” he said.
Loafers Lodge is adjacent to Wellington Regional Hospital and has 92 rooms.
The hostel offered a mix of short-term and long-term rentals, MacLean said. He didn’t have all the details, but he believed it was used by various government agencies to provide accommodation to clients.
“This is a terrible human tragedy,” Albanese said, “and I offer my condolences on behalf of Australia to our friends in New Zealand at this difficult time.”