Devastating storage unit blaze most likely arson

Company 'focused on protecting facility'

TOM HUNT
Last updated 05:00 07/04/2014
Tania Buck
KENT BLECHYNDEN/FAIRFAX NZ
DISTRESSED: Hope Vermeulen and her mother Tania Buck at a destroyed section of the storage facility. 

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News that a major Rongotai fire was probably intentionally lit is another blow to those who have already lost treasured possessions.

Irreplaceable photos, stacks of rare records, Oscar statuettes, childhood books and countless other items were in a Kiwi Self Storage building that caught fire early Friday and raged through the night, covering parts of the area in thick smoke.

It was not put out till Friday night. The building did not have sprinklers.

"Police believe it was intentionally lit," Detective Sergeant Pete Middlemiss confirmed.

Security guards were yesterday guarding the scene, which is off limits to public.

But through a gap in the fence Tania Buck could make the out the remnants of her possessions and could even spot books that had survived the inferno and were still recognisable.

She could see Clifford the Big Red Dog which she bought for her now-adult daughter as a young girl "because her father's name was Clifford".

Poking through the crumpled tin of charred remains was one of daughter Hope Vermeulen's Goosebump books.

Boxes of Buck's own childhood books - most notably the Dr Seuss and Little Golden Book series - were scattered among the debris, as were all sorts of irreplaceable memories.

Word the fire may have been intentionally lit was distressing.

Danny Lemon, a Wellington DJ and founding member of Roots Foundation, lost up to 8500 records in the fire.

The largely reggae collection was 35 years in the making. If he tried to replace them all today, he estimated only five per cent would be available, but said given the time and money he would be able to replace most of it eventually.

The thought the fire may have been intentionally lit was "just malicious", he said.

He had cancelled his home insurance due to the appalling service from his insurance company about a year ago when a water pipe burst, flooding his apartment.

About 500 records suffered water damage but the insurance company refused to send an assessor.

He was still trying to clarify if he had insurance through Kiwi Self Storage and hoped word it was likely arson did not complicate insurance matters further.

Kiwi Self Storage general manager Howard Trautvetter yesterday refused to comment other than directing The Dominion Post to Kiwi Self Storage's website and saying: "I'm totally focused on trying to protect the facility and getting access for our customers."

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According to the website, two engineering firms had visited the site and provided information on the work needed to make it safe.

It said contractors had been hired to secure the building.

The company expected to make an announcement today or tomorrow about when people could remove possessions from the building. When property could be removed it would be done on a unit by unit basis with customers present.

However, during firefighting efforts, many items were "intermingled" between units.

The items would be taken to a warehouse for collection under supervision.

"At this stage it appears that it is unlikely that customers will be able to come to the upper floor of the building due to the danger of entering such a damaged area."

- The Dominion Post

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