Four rescued from 'suspicious' fire

ROB KIDD
Last updated 15:12 21/01/2013

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Police and fire services have launched an investigation after four people had to be rescued when an apartment caught fire in a suspicious blaze yesterday.

The fire at the Commerce St apartment block in central Auckland was thought to have started in a vacant unit at about 7am.

Two men were helped down from the roof and two people were rescued from a room.

Another resident was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation and a cut hand sustained as she tried to smash glass to access the fire alarm, which did not go off even when started manually.

Fire crews and police officers spent today sifting through the wreckage to try and determine exactly how the fire started.

Senior Fire Risk Manager Mike McEnaney said the empty unit was completely gutted and a number of other apartments suffered "a reasonable amount of smoke damage".

He said the second strand of the investigation would look into why the alarm did not go off.

Alarms of that type legally have to be tested once a month and McEnaney said the landlord - Jonathan Kim - should have documentation to prove that had been carried out.

Detective Sergeant Scott Hunter said police would not comment on possible criminal liability until a scene examination had been completed but he confirmed officers would look closely at why the alarm did not work.

A former resident told Fairfax a couple of the apartments were well known hang outs for homeless people and drug addicts and had been raided by police in the past.

McEnaney said the units he had been inside did not bear the hallmarks of a squat.

Yesterday, residents told how the sky was dark from the smoke billowing from the building.

Building manager and resident Simon de Boer was one of those rescued off the roof by a fire service ladder truck.

He said he could see flames pouring out of the building and he could feel the heat of the fire under his feet.

"The roof was hot. My immediate concern was you could feel it beneath you."

He saved his praise for his girlfriend, thought, who he said "saved lives".

"She ran into the black. If it wasn't for her the neighbours wouldn't have made it out. She's in hospital now, but she's ok."

Another resident, Tungane Elupi, said she awoke to the smell of smoke.

The corridor outside their apartment was "pitch black, full of smoke".

She and her partner were able to flee downstairs where they saw de Boer on the roof.

"It was really, really scary. You could hear the burning of the fire."

McEnaney said the alarm not sounding put lives unnecessarily at risk.

Most of the damage was to the rear of the building near the vacant apartment where the fire was thought to have started.

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The apartment block is currently for sale by negotiation through Barfoot and Thompson and is described as "high income return in the city centre".

- Auckland Now

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