A fire ripped through a hostel in New Zealand’s capital overnight, killing at least six people and forcing others to flee in their pajamas in what one firefighter described as his “worst nightmare”.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A fire raged through a hostel in the New Zealand capital overnight, killing at least six people and forcing others to flee the four-storey building in their pajamas in what a firefighter described on Tuesday as his “worst nightmare”.
Wellington Fire Chief Nick Pyatt said 52 people had made it out of the building, but firefighters were still trying to find out what happened to others.
Loafers Lodge resident Tala Seeley told news outlet RNZ that he saw smoke pouring out from under his door and opened it to find the doorway pitch black.
“I was upstairs and couldn’t get through the hallway because it was so smokey, so I jumped out the window,” Seeley said.
He said he fell onto a roof two stories below him.
“It was just scary, really scary, but I knew I had to jump out the window or I would burn inside the building,” Seely told RNZ.
He said he was rescued from the roof by paramedics and treated for a sprained ankle.
Loafers Lodge offers basic and affordable rooms with shared lounges, kitchens and laundry facilities for people of a wide range of ages. Some were placed there by government agencies and considered vulnerable because they had few resources or support networks.
The inn is located in an industrial estate and features billboards on one side. Dark smoke stains extended to the outer walls of the upper floor of the building.
Pyatt said firefighters were called to the lodge around 12:30 a.m. and emergency officials said the building did not have fire sprinklers, which Prime Minister Chris Hepkins said were not required in New Zealand building code for older buildings that would have to be retrofitted.
Police said the cause of the fire was not immediately known.
Residents told reporters that fire alarms would sound regularly in the building, possibly from people smoking or overly sensitive smoke monitors, so many initially thought this was another false alarm.
Hipkins said the building is not currently safe for police to enter and it may take some time for authorities to confirm the death toll. He told the AM Morning News news program that he understood that six people had died and that the death toll was likely to rise. Police said they did not have an exact count, although they believed the death toll was less than 10.
It is an absolute tragedy. The prime minister told reporters it was a terrible situation. “Over time, of course, there will be a number of investigations into what happened and why it happened. But for now, obviously, the focus has to be on dealing with the situation.”
Health authorities said two people who were in the building were being treated in hospitals and both were in stable condition. Three others were treated and released from the hospital, while a sixth patient chose to leave before receiving treatment.
Fire Chief Pyatt said his thoughts are with the families of those who died and with the crews who rescued those they could and tried to save those they couldn’t.
“This is our worst nightmare,” Pyatt said. “It doesn’t get any worse.”
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard McLean said city and government officials were helping about 50 people who survived the fire and were at an emergency center set up by the council at a running track with bathrooms and other facilities.
He said that a number of elderly people fled the building with only the pajamas they were wearing.
“Obviously a lot of people are shaken and stunned about what happened,” he said.
Loafers Lodge is located near Wellington Regional Hospital and has 92 rooms.
McLean said the lodge offered a mix of short-term and long-term rentals. He said he didn’t have all the details, but he believed they were used by various government agencies to provide customers with the required housing.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters he had spoken with Hepkins and offered Australian help.
“This is a terrible human tragedy,” Albanese said. “I express my condolences on behalf of Australia to our friends in New Zealand at this very difficult time.”
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