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Hostel fire kills at least 6 in waterfront city as cops investigate possible arson

Six people died in a New Zealand hostel fire Tuesday, with the toll possibly rising as 11 people remain missing. 

“This is a tragic event for all involved,” Fire and Emergency New Zealand District Commander Nick Pyatt said. “My heartfelt condolences go to the loved ones of those who have lost their lives.”

The fire at the Loafers Lodge, a four-story hostel in the capital city of Wellington, started at around 12:30 a.m. local time. Emergency responders rescued 52 people before the building’s roof collapsed. 

Due to its location across from a hospital and the highly competitive housing market, the hostel’s residents consisted of a number of medical professionals and a mix of unemployed and homeless people, the BBC reported. Some residents have been deported from Australia. 

The Herald reported that a convicted arsonist had stayed at the building, and police started questioning him at midday. 

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New Zealand emergency official talks to press

Fire and Emergency Wellington District Manager Commander Nick Pyatt speaks with the media outside the Loafers Lodge hostel after a fire, in Wellington, New Zealand, May 16, 2023. (Reuters/Lucy Craymer)

“The police are still interviewing me … but the detective is asking questions his boss is asking him to ask me,” he said. “I don’t even know why … but it’s frustrating … he keeps saying ‘we’re almost finished’,” the arsonist said, denying he started the fire and refusing to reveal what questions police asked him. 

exterior of hostel shown after fire

The exterior of a hostel, after a fire ripped through the building, resulting in a number of deaths, in Wellington, New Zealand, May, 16, 2023. (AAP Image/Ben McKay via Reuters)

“This is a once-in-a-decade fire for Wellington,” he said. 

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins visited the site and spoke with emergency service providers, saying, “It is an absolute tragedy and it is a horrific situation.” 

“In the fullness of time, of course there will be a number of investigations about what has happened and why it happened but for now, the focus needs to be on dealing with the situation,” Hipkins added. 

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