'It was a nightmare': No water for firefighters to battle high-rise blaze

Firefighters were unable to get water up to a fire on top of a central Auckland high rise, due to faults in its fire ...
SHARN BROWN/SUPPLIED

Firefighters were unable to get water up to a fire on top of a central Auckland high rise, due to faults in its fire safety system.

A central Auckland high-rise building's fire hydrant system was not working when a fire broke out on Thursday, leaving firefighters in a "nightmare" situation.

​Assistant area commander for the Fire Service Roger Callister said construction workers "must have disconnected" the 21-storey building's fire hydrant system - pillars known as "risers", that transport water through each storey for fire hoses to be plugged into.

"It was a nightmare," he said. "We had a crew waiting up on the roof but no water to put the fire out."

Had the the fire been mid-structure, the vast amounts of smoke would have made evacuating constructions workers in the building "extremely difficult", he said.

READ MORE: Smoke billowing from Central Auckland fire

Fire crews had to carry "enormous" lengths of hose up 21 flights of stairs to reach the blaze on the roof of the Queen St building, which was being converted into a hotel.

"It consumed a huge amount of people to run that length of hose, and you end up running into everybody - it added all sorts of challenges for us, logistical and physical," Callister said.

"The ridiculous thing is that the whole thing could have been done and dusted in 20 minutes if the risers had been operational."

As it was, the fire burned itself out before crews could get water to it. It had ignited due to a workman using a gas torch on the rooftop water cooler.

A Fire Service spokesman said between 50 to 60 firefighters were part of the operation, which went from around 3pm to 4pm on Thursday.

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Brett Russell from Dominion Constructors, who were converting the building into a hotel, said he thought around 100 construction workers would have been on site at the time.

Everyone was evacuated.

Callister said Auckland Council had shut down renovations at the building until it complied fully with the building code's fire regulations; "it's in limbo now," he said.

"It is so important for construction companies to understand that the likelihood of fire increases in buildings undergoing work.

"It's crucial to maintain fire prevention mechanisms and mandatory by the building code."

 - Stuff

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