21 Jan 2013

Auckland fire 'suspicious', investigators say

6:00 am on 21 January 2013

Fire Service investigators say a blaze at an Auckland inner city apartment is being treated as suspicious.

They are also investigating why the alarms in the building were not working.

Four people had to be rescued by firefighters after the fire started in the two-storey block along Commerce Street about 7am on Sunday.

The Fire Service said callers to the 111 service reported people jumping from the roof of the apartment to a nearby building to escape the fire.

One resident told Radio New Zealand News his neighbour tried to activate one of the alarms by smashing the box that protects it, but it did not sound.

A Fire Service Senior Station Officer, Sulu Devoe, says two people were rescued through their windows at the back of the apartment, while two others were plucked from the roof top.

"We have confirmation that there wasn't any fire alarm sounding at all inside the building," he says. "There is a fire alarm panel - whether it is working or not is something our investigator will be looking into".

Mr Devoe says one person was taken to hospital with smoke inhalation and another was treated at the scene by the ambulance service.

Dramatic escape.

Occupant Jamie Whittaker said he was woken by a strong smell of smoke and could feel the heat from the flames.

"My room was filling up with smoke. There's a window at the top of the room and smoke was coming out of the roof and into my room.

"Everyone was asleep and I woke them all up and said 'look, we've got to get out of here, there's a fire.' Then the flames started coming up through the roof."

Mr Whittaker said the fire exit and staircase were blocked by fire and smoke and he had to use a ladder to escape from his window.

He said his flatmate tried to activate the fire alarm by smashing the box protecting it, but said it did not work.

Another resident, Red Tsounga, said a neighbour was able to smash the glass to sound the alarm but no alarm rang in the building.

Mr Tsounga said he could have died if the smoke hadn't woken him up.

Mr Devoe says one of those rescued was taken to hospital with moderate injuries from inhaling smoke and another person was treated at the scene by ambulance staff.

The Fire Service believes the blaze started at the back of the building. It said about 80 firefighters were used to bring the fire under control.