Large fire near Wellington Airport

TALIA SHADWELL, ANDREA O'NEIL, AND TOM HUNT
Last updated 17:01 04/04/2014

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Wellington fire

Fire threatens building collapse

SlideshowKiwi Self Storage fire, Kilbirnie


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There is some hope for people who feared their belongings have been destroyed in a fire at a Wellington storage facility.

The fire, near Wellington airport, has been burning since about 1am, and is expected to linger overnight.

The Fire Service said that the while the blaze is still not out, the ground floor of the storage unit appears to have escape with water and smoke damage. The upper floor, however, is destroyed.

The storage facility containing Lord of the Rings Oscars among other prize possessions did not have sprinklers.

The fire at Kiwi Self Storage near Wellington Airport has been burning since about 1am and fresh teams of firefighters were brought in as the fire neared the 12-hour mark.

Fire fighters eventually managed to get inside the building, where they were expected to remain for several hours battling the fire unit by unit.

Assistant Area Commander Paul Smith said the fire was taking a long time to extinguish resulting in a "hard slog" for fire fighters who have come from all over the city to help.

"The fire is deep seated and we expect to be still fighting the fire tomorrow morning," he said. "Once it has been extinguished then a fire investigation will begin to determine the cause."

Smith confirmed the building had no sprinklers. If it had them the fire would have been contained to where it started, but a building could be compliant without sprinklers, he said.

LOST POSSESSIONS

Cinematographer Alex Funke has two Oscars, which he won for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as "some Baftas" at the storage facility right at the heart of the blaze.

He also had a lot of personal camera equipment stored there.  

Funke wasn't notified of the fire until 8.40am today, when he then rushed down to the scene.

"It's very upsetting. You put stuff in storage... you think it's safe."

He understood the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences could probably replace the Oscar statuettes.

Karaka Bay resident Gillian Parkinson may have lost her rare Madonna memorabilia in the fire, she said.

Parkinson and her husband had rented a $200-a-month space at Kiwi Self Storage for three years after selling their house and moving to smaller rented accommodation.

Possessions the Madonna-mad Parkinson had stored there included the pop star's rubber bracelets from her 1980s Like a Virgin era, books, and numbered picture discs.

Her collections was valuable, she said.

Parkinson had also stored family photo albums, her children's paintings, furniture and her grandmother's china.

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Jessica Bewley stored her grandfather's letters and other family heirlooms in her locker.

The Wellingtonian now lives in Sydney and learned about the blaze from a friend who sent her photos this morning.

"I've now notified my parents who now live abroad also and we are just waiting now to hear anything," she said.

Bewley was gutted about the possibility her inherited letters were gone, she said.

"I guess though at the end of the day it is only material possessions that have been lost."

HUGE OPERATION

About half of the 20 fire trucks brought in overnight have now been sent home.

In a statement, Fire Service assistant area commander Paul Smith said the fire was not endangering any other buildings. Part of the difficulty was that the building was made up of numerous locked compartments. 

The initial responding crew had gained access, but were forced back, as the building had upright concrete slabs at both ends and one was threatening to collapse.

Smith told Fairfax Media that by 9am firefighters still had not been able to re-enter the 25m-by-80m building because it was "too dangerous".

There were no signs anyone was in the building but fire fighters would be checking on this when they got inside.

A digger has now removed a large corner of the building and fire fighters are spraying foam in to quell the remaining flames.

At the peak of the Fire Service's response, up to 100 crew battled the blaze, with all on-duty Wellington crew called in, as well as some from Porirua and Hutt Valley.

One firefighter suffered mild heat stress and is now resting at home.

Thick smoke from the fire will continue for some time and residents and workers in the area were advised to close their windows or leave the area if they can.

Pollution control officers were coming to assess what was in the smoke and an environmental response team was on the way to consider whether it was necessary to evacuate residents.

Smith was not sure whether there were any hazardous substances in the building, however he believed the building would have regulation about storing hazardous goods.

Smith said the fire was not the biggest he had seen in Wellington "but it's up there".

Earlier attempts to pull roofing iron off failed because of the intense heat.

He estimated the interior of the warehouse to be between 800degC to 1000degC.

HEALTH CONCERNS

Regional Public Health medical officer of health Stephen Palmer said the smoke would only be tested for toxins if toxic material was found inside.

Smoke would contain particles, gas, and water vapour.

Any toxins were likely in small amounts. Smoke could irritate eyes, nose, throat and airways.

It could cause runny or sore eyes, sore throat, sore nose, a cough, or chest tightness.

For most healthy people the symptoms would disappear when exposure ended.

But smokers, elderly, young children, or those with health problems could be at more risk and should get medical help if required. 

TRANSPORT AFFECTED

InterCity coaches and some school buses were unable to operate this morning because of the fire.

Delays or cancellations are likely on InterCity buses leaving Wellington today because the fire is blocking access to the depot. 

One service from Wellington to Taupo has already been cancelled and it is likely that other services will not be able to depart until noon.

The InterCity website will display updated travel information throughout the day.

Smoke was visible from the airport but flights had not been affected so far, a Fire Service spokeswoman said.

School bus runs for Scots College from Churton Park, Station Road, Crofton Downs and Khandallah have also been cancelled this morning.

Bus operator Tranzit is unable to cross a cordoned-off area near the fire.

- The Dominion Post

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