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Police say couch was set on fire two hours before deadly hostel blaze



Police in New Zealand are investigating whether there are any links between a couch fire lit at the Loafers Lodge hostel on Monday night and the suspicious blaze two hours later that killed at least six people.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Inspector Dion Bennett, Acting Wellington District Commander, confirmed the couch fire took place but was never reported to police or firefighters.

"There was a couch fire at Loafers Lodge at around 10.30pm on Monday night, prior to the fatal fire which occurred around two hours later," he said.

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"The couch fire was not reported to emergency services at the time.

"As part of our enquiries, we will be seeking to confirm any link between that couch fire and the subsequent fatal fire."

Police are still yet to enter the hostel to search for the 11 people who remain missing and recover the six bodies of those who have been confirmed dead, but are hoping to do so soon.

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A general view of the scene the day after a fire at Loafers Lodge on May 17, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand.

However, Bennett warned it could take days before the building is completely examined.

"Following a health and safety assessment, officers hope to enter the building this afternoon to begin a scene examination," he said.

"This scene examination will be an extensive and methodical process, and we expect it to take some time – likely several days.

"Alongside the scene examination, officers will be working to locate and recover those who lost their lives in the fire.

"We know there are many people waiting for news of family and friends – including the residents who escaped the fire and are keenly waiting for news of their fellow tenants.

"I again want to provide the reassurance that we have a large number of officers working on this investigation, with the aim of providing them the answers they need as quickly as possible."

While there were no fire sprinklers in Loafers Lodge before Monday night's devastating blaze, Wellington City Council confirmed yesterday the building passed an independent safety inspection just two months ago.

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A general view the day after a fire at Loafers Lodge on May 17, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand.

"The Loafers Lodge has a Building Warrant of Fitness issued in March this year," the council said in a statement.

"There were no concerns raised by the independently qualified person who inspected and tested the life safety systems in the building."

While new buildings are required to install sprinkler systems, older ones like the hostel are exempt from having to retroactively fit them, however Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the fire could lead to a review of the country's building regulations.

Hipkins told reporters on Wednesday he has asked Housing Minister Megan Woods to look into "issues around building regulation", although said any government review would need to wait until after the current police investigation of the hostel.

"What comes out of their work, of course, will inform decisions about what a future review might look like."

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