Suspicious fire destroys Wellington buses

Fire engulfs the buses at the Karori depot.
1 of 7DON MACLEOD
Fire engulfs the buses at the Karori depot.
Fire engulfs the buses at the Karori depot.
2 of 7DON MACLEOD
Fire engulfs the buses at the Karori depot.
The Go Wellington buses on fire at the Karori depot.
3 of 7SIMON SPENCE
The Go Wellington buses on fire at the Karori depot.
The Go Wellington buses on fire at the Karori depot.
4 of 7SIMON SPENCE
The Go Wellington buses on fire at the Karori depot.
The destroyed remains of the Go Wellington buses at the Karori depot.
5 of 7ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
The destroyed remains of the Go Wellington buses at the Karori depot.
The destroyed remains of the Go Wellington buses at the Karori depot.
6 of 7ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
The destroyed remains of the Go Wellington buses at the Karori depot.
The destroyed remains of the Go Wellington buses at the Karori depot.
7 of 7ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
The destroyed remains of the Go Wellington buses at the Karori depot.

A suspicious fire that gutted five Go Wellington buses causing at least $1.6 million worth of damage could have been ''catastrophic'' if it had spread to nearby homes, say police.

Charred skeletal frames were all that remained of four of the buses destroyed by this morning's fire at the depot in Darwin Street, Karori.

A fifth bus was not as badly wrecked in the 3am fire, its windscreen smashed and blackened by the blaze.

DESTROYED: The five buses at Wellington's Karori depot were destroyed in the fire.
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
DESTROYED: The five buses at Wellington's Karori depot were destroyed in the fire.

The incident was being treated as suspicious and was distressing for people living in homes neighbouring the depot, acting detective sergeant Caroline Martin said.

It appeared a person has got onto one of the Go Buses and has deliberately set alight one of the buses, she said. 

''The proximity of this fire is extremely close to other residential addresses and everyone in this area is concerned." 

''There's a close proximity between the residential addresses and the buses and it potentially could have had a catastrophic [effect].'' 

''There was a considerable amount of damage caused here today and obviously a huge risk.''

Police investigators were following several lines of inquiry to find who was responsible for the damage, Miss Martin said. 

At this stage it was too early to conclude whether an accelerant was used to light the fire and police were appealing to anyone with more information to come forward, Miss Martin said.

Rachel Drew, chief operating officer for NZ Bus in Wellington, said all five buses hit by the blaze were new Alexander Dennis Enviro 200 buses worth about $400,000 each. They were between three and six months old.

Ray Christian, who lives nearby, said she was watching a movie at the time of the fire and heard bangs ''like fireworks''.

''I looked out the window and saw massive clouds of billowing black smoke.''

She ran across to wake neighbours closer to the fire and saw ''massive'' flames almost lighting up near-by apartments.

There was a strong toxic smell of burning plastic, she said.

Fellow resident Don MacLeod said he heard a ''ruckus'' about 3am and was about to complain when he realised it was a fire.

The flames were almost touching the power lines above the depot, he said.

Firefighters arrived five minutes later and had the blaze under control after about 20 minutes.

Security at the bus depot had been beefed up about a year ago because of the ''drunk people'' who often gathered in the area at night, Mr MacLeod said.

Lucy Lu, whose home backs on to the depot, called 111 after her mother woke her at 3am.

Buses were usually parked against her back fence, but fortunately they had been parked further away over the weekend, she said.

Flames were leaping up to eight metres in the air at the peak of the fire. If it had been a windy night it could have easily spread further, she said.

Jenny Williams, who lives at Marsden Park Flats on Karori Rd, thought she heard fireworks at 3am.

The fire was "pretty well involved" when she got outside with flames lapping at trees and powerlines on her property.
"It was very hot where we were."

She had no doubt it was deliberately lit.

"It seemed unlikely a bus was going to catch fire in the middle of the night by itself."

Ms Drew said the depot building escaped without any fire damage.

She urged anyone with information to come forward to police.

''People are going to hear things because it's in a residential neighbourhood.''

Replacement buses were put into service from the NZ Bus depot in Kilbirnie this morning. Four services suffered minor disruptions while those changes were made.

All NZ Bus depots across the country were currently undergoing safety reviews, Ms Drew said.

People with information should call Wellington police on (04) 381 2000.

The Dominion Post