Auckland apartment fire deliberately lit

ROB KIDD
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2013

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A fire in an Auckland apartment block, from which four people had to be rescued, was deliberately lit and the fire alarm tampered with, investigators say.

The fire at the Commerce St building started in a vacant unit about 7am on Sunday. Two men had to be helped down from the roof and two people rescued from a room.

Senior Fire Risk Manager Mike McEnaney confirmed the fire had been intentionally started.

He said smoke and heat sensors should have given residents an early warning but it was some time before people realised the block was ablaze.

"From my initial review on the day, it was clear [the alarm] had been tampered with."

Manual interference was the only way it could have been disconnected, he said.

"Clearly the implications could've well been disastrous," he said.

"Had that occurred at 3am I have no doubt there would have been a serious situation with multiple fatalities."

Detective Sergeant Scott Hunter said there was no suggestion the arson and disengaged alarm were linked.

Officers were reviewing CCTV footage of the area in the hours before the fire started in an attempt to track down the arsonist.

However, uncovering who tampered with the alarm might be more problematic, Hunter said.

A company checked the building's system in December and forwarded reports to Auckland Council.

Unfortunately, there was a large window of time between when that check took place and when the fire occurred.

Hunter was unsure if CCTV footage even stretched back that far and if it did it would be a hefty task to review it all.

Building manager and resident Simon de Boer was one of those rescued off the roof by a fire service ladder truck.

He said he could see flames pouring out of the building and he could feel the heat of the fire under his feet.

It was due to his girlfriend Chantelle Bignell, who ran through smoke-filled corridors, that the alarm was raised, de Boer said.

Another resident, Tungane Elupi, said she awoke to the smell of smoke.

"It was really, really scary. You could hear the burning of the fire."

The apartment block is currently for sale by negotiation through Barfoot and Thompson and is described as "high income return in the city centre".

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