Man charged over deadly NZ hostel fire

·3-min read
Masanori Udagawa/AAP PHOTOS

A man has been charged with two counts of arson over a fire at a hostel in Wellington, New Zealand, that killed at least six people.

New Zealand Police say they have not ruled out further more serious charges that may be laid in relation to deaths at Loafers Lodge in Newtown, which went up in flames on Monday night.

The man is scheduled to appear in Wellington District Court on Friday.

The investigation is ongoing, say police, but they are not seeking anyone else in relation to the fire.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand government will review safety regulations for high-density accommodation in the wake of the fatal Loafers Lodge fire, amid claims the firefighters involved in the blaze lacked resources.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) had one ladder truck available to lift hostel occupants from the top of the building in the Wellington suburb of Newtown after the blaze broke out in the early hours of Tuesday.

In total, 33 trucks and 80 firefighters attended the scene, where at least six people died.

FENZ chief executive Kerry Gregory said firefighters are very raw about the latest incident, flagging an operational review of the service's operations, staffing and fleet.

"Firefighter numbers are not where we need them to be. We have committed to addressing this," he told reporters on Thursday.

"I want to reassure the public that fire and emergency are ready, able and capable of responding."

Mr Gregory rejected claims of a lack of resources, saying the service had enough specialist appliances to respond, while conceding the fleet was ageing.

The death toll from the fire remains at six but is expected to rise when police begin a more methodological search.

"The recovery of those who lost their lives in the fire will be the immediate priority for the team," acting Wellington District Commander Inspector Dion Bennett said.

"We anticipate recovering two of the deceased today and two tomorrow."

Damage inside is extensive, with debris as high as one metre in places.

Police are treating the fire as arson and have a number of people of interest they plan to interview as part of a homicide investigation.

In recent times, the hostel had been used to house low-income Kiwis, a mix of short and long-term tenant, including some New Zealanders deported from Australia and others under corrections orders.

It is not clear of the make-up of residents during the fire, which caused many to jump from windows or crawl through smoke-filled corridors to try and escape.

Police are also reconciling lists of people believed to be at the hostel on the night by accounting for their whereabouts.

There are "less than 20" outstanding people, Insp Bennett said, including the six bodies originally confirmed by FENZ.

There were just over 100 people in the 92-bed facility, described on its website as "Wellington's most convenient and affordable accommodation option".

The blaze has triggered outrage and despair among Wellingtonians, particularly owing to the vulnerable nature of those affected.

Many who survived lost all of their possessions and many have been rendered homeless.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Wednesday said he would task Housing Minister Megan Woods with examining building regulations issues.

"I've already asked officials to give me advice in terms of what we need to do to ensure that buildings are safe for New Zealanders," Dr Woods said.

Loafers Lodge director Greg Mein has defended the maintenance of the building.

"Myself, the management, the family ... of the owner, everyone is just gutted by this. It's just done us in completely," he told reporters.

Mr Main said monthly inspections and a recent annual building warrant of fitness showed "all the services are up to standard and ... everything was a-okay".