'Priceless' treasures lost in suspicious fire

PAUL EASTON AND SIOBHAN DOWNES
Last updated 13:19 06/04/2014
Wellington storage fire
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Firefighters battle a blaze at the Kiwi Self Storage in Wellington.

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A fire at a storage unit in the Wellington suburb of Kilbirnie is being treated as suspicious, police have confirmed.

The fire, at Kiwi Self Storage near Wellington Airport, burned from about 1am on Friday morning and continued for almost 24 hours.

Detective Sergeant Josh McAllum would not comment further other than saying "suspicious circumstances are being investigated".

Heirlooms, Oscars, antiques and treasured photos all went up in smoke or were badly damaged by smoke and water.

Yesterday property owners gathered at the gates of Kiwi Self Storage and tried to assess their losses.

Eileen Frost said her unit contained silverware from her great-grandparents and her late father's library, including some rare books.

The collection was "priceless" she said. "This was real Antiques Roadshow stuff."

Colin Hodson and Grace Russell put most of their possessions into a unit at Kiwi Self Storage just hours before the blaze, ahead of a move to Auckland. They included personal photos, vinyl records, computers and an art collection.

They felt powerless as the fire burned on Friday. "We ended up just driving around," Hodson said. The couple were also not covered by insurance. "Looking at what we had left . . . it was just pots and pans," Russell said.

Storage facilities used sprinklers, heat or smoke detection systems depending on building requirements, New Zealand representative for the Self Storage Association of Australasia Keith Edwards said. Fire engineers and councils decided what was appropriate for the building and checked off the systems.

Edwards, chief executive officer of All Secure Self Storage, said some of his five sites around the country had smoke and heat detection while others had sprinklers. "I just do what the engineer tells me to do. The systems are there for one purpose - to protect life, and allow the building to stand up so people can get out. Life cannot be replaced, but most other items can be."

Storage King Wellington manager Frank de Vries said his two facilities did not have sprinklers but were fitted with monitored fire alarm systems. "The problem with sprinklers is that they can be inadvertently activated," he said. "It's amazing how much water comes out and the damage it can do to goods."

Investigators had narrowed down where the fire started, but its cause was not yet known.

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- Sunday Star Times

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