Mt Eden church fire treated as suspicious

9:47 pm on 30 December 2018

A fire at a historic central Auckland church is being treated as suspicious.

The historice St James church in Mt Eden caught fire on 30 December 2018.

Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

Firefighters will remain on scene at the old St James hall on Esplanade Road in Mt Eden overnight to dampen any hotspots.

Fire and Emergency say a fire investigator will return to the hall tomorrow morning.

Emergency services were called to the Esplanade Road property just after 4.30pm.

Assistant area commander Vaughan Mackereth said about 50 firefighters fought the blaze.

He said the 130-year-old hall has been abandoned for the last six years and is in danger of collapse.

"Obviously we can't go inside it, so we're just simply fighting from the outside, so that's the difference.

"It's an old building, an old wooden building so the roof's already collapsed, so we just don't want to put anyone in there and get anyone injured, there's obviously nobody in there, so we'll just fight it from the outside."

Mr Mackereth said there are still small pockets of fire inside the building and firefighters are now trying to get to those.

Earlier the fire generated large amounts of smoke which could be seen from the Southern Motorway.

The St James Church hall is abandoned.

It was built in 1885, while the larger St James Church was built in 1900.

A retired church elder said he was shocked at the blaze.

Tei Kiliuyi still attends the Pacific Islanders' Presbyterian Church next door.

More than 100 people attend the church every Sunday, and they had checked the building this afternoon after leaving their service.

He said they were shocked to see the neighbouring hall burn down, and do not know what caused it.

Mr Kiliuyi said homeless people had been known to sleep in the building.

No caption

The burnt roof of St James Church hall. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

The church hall has been abandoned since April 2012, when it was subject to a dangerous building notice.

In March this year, the Presbyterian Church Property Trustees chief executive Kos van Lier wrote to Auckland Council saying the church was at risk of collapse.

"The lives of residents living in close proximity to the hall on the southern and eastern side are at risk in the event of a partial or total collapse, as are the lives of passersby," he said in a letter obtained by RNZ.

They called for the immediate evacuation of neighbours, and for the road next to the church to be closed.

In 2014, the church made a multimillion-dollar deal with a developer, View West, to sell the site, but the sale would only go through if the hall was demolished. The council blocked that demolition.