Boys, 13, questioned over massive blaze

Fears over structural integrity of burned-out building

Source: Fire & Rescue NSW

Residents remain locked out of their homes and local businesses on hold as emergency services continue to examine the wreckage of two inner-Sydney buildings destroyed by fire on Thursday.

The “once-in-a-decade” fire that engulfed the heritage-listed former hat factory on Randle Street in Surry Hills was extinguished by Friday morning, with the help of more than 120 firefighters and 30 fire trucks.

But an exclusion zone is expected to remain for at least seven days as emergency services monitor the stability of what is left of the damaged buildings.

Until the fire ground is declared safe, an exclusion zone will remain in place; this includes road closures on Elizabeth Street, Chalmers Street and Randle Street. However, one southbound lane on Elizabeth Street will be re-opened on Friday evening.

surry hills fire

The building continued to smoulder on Friday, as firefighters remained worried it might collapse. Photo: AAP

As of Friday, two 13-year-old boys who were helping police with their inquiries after surrendering at separate Sydney police stations late on Thursday. This followed reports several teenagers were seen running from the building before the blaze took hold about 4pm that afternoon.

NSW Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Paul Dunstan said police believed up to four other children of a similar age were also on the scene, and urged them to come forward with their parents.

Local locksmith Phu Tang said he saw teenagers fleeing the burning building as he walked back to his workshop on Thursday.

“I could hear shattered glass hitting the footpath and I looked up and the building was already on fire,” he told Sunrise on Friday.

“The kids were running past me.

“They screamed upwards talking to another kid inside the building, asking why he was still inside.”

Up to 15 people were believed to be sleeping rough inside the heritage-listed building prior to the fire – 13 have been confirmed safe.

Source: Rhys Gordon

‘Intense’ heat of burning building

Rhys Gordon, owner of nearby tattoo studio Little Tokyo, told The New Daily on Friday that one of his customers was the first to see the smoke from the building on Thursday afternoon.

He said flames soon became visible and engulfed the building “quite heavily, quite fast”.

“It just went up so quick, the heat was so intense,” he said.

“I think the building was built in the early 1900s. Sad to see another building go … it’s an old building, wooden floors, it was probably a perfect storm for some sort of building fire.”

“The police did an amazing job [and] the fire brigade did an amazing job [in] moving people away, keeping them safe.”

Mr Gordon said the immediate surrounding area remained a “no-go” zone on Friday. He and his team were allowed back into the studio on Friday, but clients could not get through the “heavily” cordoned-off streets.

A police officer told him the area was a crime scene, and he said fire services were still “pumping water” into the building as he spoke to TND shortly after midday on Friday.

At least 70 residents of buildings in the area have been displaced.

Occupants of apartments at 1-5 Randall Street have been allowed in to get personal possessions, but are unable to fully return home as the electricity to their building remains cut off; 38 Chalmers Street residents are unable to return due to concerns over a “bulging” wall from the fire-affected building close to their unit block.

The Department of Communities and Justice has offered alternative accommodation, which some residents have accepted.

Firefighters earlier removed pets from surrounding residences away from the blaze. They also managed to retrieve a wedding dress for a soon-to-be-bride from one of the evacuated buildings.

Sydney Dental Hospital, on 2 Chalmers Street, was declared safe on Friday and has since re-opened.

Police rescued pets from surrounding buildings. Photo: NSW Police Force

Fears for rough sleepers

Fire and Rescue NSW Acting Commissioner Jeremy Fewtrell described Thursday’s blaze as a “once-in-a-decade type of fire”.

It was a “really defining point” in the careers of all the firefighters who attended, he said.

“The one thing I can guarantee at the end of their careers, this is one of the highlights they will reflect upon,” he said.

Authorities remain concerned over dangers the damaged building may present.

“There are two walls that are in a precarious position,” Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Adam Dewberry said on Friday.

“There’s definitely a high chance they’ll come down without notice.”

Superintendent Dewberry said much work was needed to make the old hat factory safe for access, especially if the wind picked up.

“We are talking about tonnes and tonnes of bricks that could come down and become projectiles,” he said.

“There are glass windows and glass panelling still falling down from the building across the road.”

Superintendent Dewberry praised his crews for preventing significant damage to nearby buildings after fire spread into an apartment block and another suffered extreme heat damage to its exterior.

Due to the size of the fire and the impact on the community, a report will be prepared for the coroner.

Earlier, Mr Fewtrell said it was lucky no one was badly hurt in the extremely dangerous conditions.

The only reported injury was a minor burn suffered by a firefighter.

There were plans to turn the century-old former hat factory into a 123-room, two-restaurant hotel at a cost of almost $40 million.

On Friday, an Emergency Operations Centre was activated in Sydney to coordinate multi-agency operations following the blaze.

– with AAP

Topics: Fire, Sydney
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