Man Charged With Starting Fire Chief's 'Worst Nightmare'

New Zealand hostel fire death toll adjusted down to 5, but searchers not yet done at scene
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 16, 2023 1:30 AM CDT
Updated May 19, 2023 1:41 AM CDT
Fire Chief's 'Worst Nightmare' Kills at Least 6 People at Hostel
Police officers walk near a fire at a hostel in central Wellington, New Zealand, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Several people were killed after a fire broke out overnight at the four-story building.   (Mark Mitchell/NZ Herald via AP)
UPDATE May 19, 2023 1:41 AM CDT

New Zealand police on Friday lowered the confirmed death toll from a Wellington hostel fire from six people to five, although they said they still haven't finished searching the dangerous four-story building. And in another development, a man charged with two counts of arson in connection with the fire made his first court appearance, the AP reports. He is accused of setting fire to a couch about two hours prior to the big blaze, and, later, of setting fire to the Loafers Lodge itself, ABC reports. If found guilty, the man faces a maximum 14 years in prison on the two charges. Police said they're treating the case as a homicide investigation and could add more serious charges later.

May 16, 2023 1:30 AM CDT

A fire ripped through a hostel in New Zealand’s capital overnight, killing at least six people and forcing others to flee the four-story building in their pajamas in what a fire chief on Tuesday called his “worst nightmare.” Six bodies were found but not all areas of the building had been searched yet because the roof on the top floor had collapsed, bringing down debris and making the area unsafe, said Bruce Stubbs, the incident controller for Fire and Emergency New Zealand. Officials said 52 people had made it out of the building alive but they were still trying to account for others and it could take some time to confirm the total number killed, the AP reports. Authorities warned fatalities would likely rise, but said they believed the death toll to be less than 10.

The 92-room Loafers Lodge offered basic, affordable rooms with shared lounges, kitchens, and laundry facilities to people of a wide range of ages. Some were placed there by government agencies and were considered vulnerable because they had little in the way of resources or support networks. Firefighters were called to the hostel at about 12:30am. Emergency officials said the building had no fire sprinklers, which Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said was not required in New Zealand’s building code for older buildings that would have to be retrofitted. Police said the cause of the fire was not known yet but they didn’t believe it had been deliberately lit.

(More New Zealand stories.)

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