Man charged over alleged arson attacks on NZ hostel

Deadly hostel fire treated as arson

A man has been charged with two counts of arson over a fire at a hostel in Wellington, New Zealand, that killed at least six people.

Police say they have not ruled out further more serious charges in relation to deaths at Loafers Lodge in Newtown, which went up in flames on Monday night.

The man will appear in Wellington District Court on Friday.

Local media report the man was a resident of the lodge and is aged in his 40s.

Police have been interviewing survivors and reviewing CCTV evidence from the time of the fire, laying the charges late on Thursday.

Acting Wellington District Commander Dion Bennett said he was “confident that police are not seeking anyone else in relation to the fire”.

Painstaking grim task

Alongside the homicide investigation, police continue to work on recovering bodies from the charred building.

There are six confirmed dead from the fire, with Inspector Bennett saying earlier in the week his “gut feeling” was that the death toll might climb.

Two bodies were removed from the burned-out building on Thursday and taken to Wellington Hospital’s morgue.

Police expect to transport another two bodies on Friday.

Inspector Bennett said the scene investigation would be painstakingly slow, taking days, as disaster victim identification officers went about their work.

Inside the former lodge, debris is stacked up to a metre high in places.

Police have not updated the number of missing people since Wednesday. At the time they said fewer than 20 people were unaccounted for, including the six confirmed dead.

There were just over 100 people in the 92-bed facility, described on its website as “Wellington’s most convenient and affordable accommodation option”.

No victims have been named.

It is still not confirmed if any of the victims had arrived from Australia, as the building was recently used to house New Zealand deportees.

The building was compliant with New Zealand safety regulations — which do not require sprinklers — and just received its annual building warrant of fitness.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand government will review safety regulations for high-density accommodation following the fatal fire, amid claims the firefighters involved in the blaze lacked resources.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand had just one ladder truck available to lift hostel occupants from the top of the building after the blaze broke out in the early hours of Tuesday.

In total, 33 trucks and 80 firefighters attended the scene, where at least six people died.

FENZ chief executive Kerry Gregory said firefighters were raw about the fatal fire, flagging an operational review of operations, staffing and fleet.

“Firefighter numbers are not where we need them to be. We have committed to addressing this,” he said on Thursday.

“I want to reassure the public that fire and emergency are ready, able and capable of responding.”

Mr Gregory rejected claims of a lack of resources, saying the service had enough specialist appliances to respond, while conceding the fleet was ageing.

The blaze has triggered outrage and despair among Wellingtonians, particularly owing to the vulnerable nature of those affected.

Many who survived lost all of their possessions and many have been rendered homeless.

At least six dead in Wellington fire

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday he would ask Housing Minister Megan Woods to examine building regulations issues.

“I’ve already asked officials to give me advice in terms of what we need to do to ensure that buildings are safe for New Zealanders,” Dr Woods said.

Loafers Lodge director Greg Mein has defended the maintenance of the building.

“Myself, the management, the family … of the owner, everyone is just gutted by this. It’s just done us in completely,” he told reporters.

Mr Main said monthly inspections and a recent annual building warrant of fitness showed “all the services are up to standard and … everything was a-OK”.

-with AAP

Topics: New Zealand
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