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Homicide probe launched after six killed in New Zealand hostel fire

Firefighters inspect the Loafers Lodge hostel (AFP via Getty Images)
Firefighters inspect the Loafers Lodge hostel (AFP via Getty Images)

A deadly fire at a New Zealand hostel which killed at least six was suspected arson, police said on Wednesday as they launched a homicide investigation.

Officers did not reveal their reasons for treating the blaze, at Loafers Lodge in Wellington early on Tuesday, as suspected arson.

The fire broke out on the top floor of the hostel, causing major structural damage that hampered recovery efforts.

Following a health and safety assessment, police said investigators hoped to enter the 92-room building in the afternoon to begin their investigation, and find and identify the dead.

Inspector Dion Bennett (AFP via Getty Images)
Inspector Dion Bennett (AFP via Getty Images)

“This scene examination will be an extensive and methodical process, and we expect it to take some time, likely several days," Acting Wellington District Commander Dion Bennett said. “I can confirm that we are treating the fire as arson."

Inspector Bennett added: “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."

 (AP)
(AP)

The hostel provided accommodation for construction workers, hospital staff and those serving sentences in the community for minor crimes, among other people.

Some people are missing after the blaze, with authorities putting the number at less than 20 people.

They said some of the missing residents of the hostel might just be unaccounted for. Firefighters rescued some 52 people in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

Earlier on Wednesday, Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) deemed it safe for police to enter the building.

“The next step for us is going through and ensuring that there isn't anybody else in there and obviously working with police to investigate and support them in the removal of the six people," FENZ region manager Bruce Stubbs told Radio New Zealand.

Some residents of the hotel have reported regular false fire alarms in the months leading up to the tragedy

One person affected, Tala Sili, said: “It was just scary, it was really scary, but I knew I had to jump out of the window or just burn inside the building."