Loafers Lodge residents tell their escape stories after early morning fire

3:31 pm on 16 May 2023
Tala Sili says he jumped out the window of the burning hostel onto a roof two floors below.

Tala Sili jumped out of the window at the hostel because he says there was too much smoke to go down the hallway. Photo: RNZ/Ashleigh McCaull

Residents who escaped an early morning fire at their hostel have spoken of the frightening moments they realised they needed to get out. These are their stories.

A man has described jumping from the top floor of the burning Wellington hostel to get to safety.

Tala Sili told RNZ he saw smoke coming under his door and opened it to find the hallway dark and black.

He decided then to jump out the window onto a roof two storeys below.

"I was on the top floor and I couldn't go through the hallway because there was just too much smoke so I jumped out the window.

"It was just scary, it was really scary, but I knew I had to jump out the window or just burn inside the building."

Sili said he was rescued from the roof by paramedics and treated for a sprained ankle.

Paul Jury, resident of Loafers Lodge.

Paul Jury said residents were shocked and saddened that people have died in the fire. Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

Paul Jury managed to get out down the stairs from the first floor.

Survivors were shocked and saddened that a number of people had died in the fire, he said, and people at the welfare centre were trying to come to terms with what had happened.

One described crawling on the floor through thick black smoke and running for his life to get out of the burning building.

The resident, who did not want to give his name, said he was alerted to the fire by another resident.

"He saw the smoke coming out of one of the windows and decided better wake everyone up because the alarm was going off and no one was moving so he went screaming down all of the corridors and that's when we heard him," the man said.

"He started screaming 'Everyone...get out, this place is on fire'.

"When I opened up my door all I could see is black smoke so I got on the ground and started crawling real fast to get to the door and make it to the door - just made it."

The man was staying on floor three and had not been there for long.

He said he felt lucky to have got out.

"Only took a couple of minutes...it wasn't a very good thing, I lost a lot of stuff. But I'm still alive, that's the main thing."

He could not hear the smoke alarms going off, he said.

"There was a lot of people in panic and I feel sorry for a few of the other guys, especially the old guys who can't move so fast...those were the ones I'm worried about."

His mind was focused on the older people in the building, he said.

Tamrat Isse Adan, Loafers Lodge resident.

Tamrat Isse Adan escaped the fire at the hostel. Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

Tamrat Isse Adan said he felt very sad and was worried about his friends in the building.

"I'm very sad, I'm very sad... my next-door neighbour, he's like my friend who's missing... I don't know [if] he's dead... it's very sad."

He had no where to go now, he said.

Simon Hanify managed to get out of the building while wearing a moon-boot on his leg.

He had lived there for five months and said there was often false alarms.

"There was a fire alarm went off at 12, and they go off all the time, usually it's a false alarm, somebody cooking toast or something," he told RNZ.

"I actually went out on the balcony for that one because I've evacuated the building so many times for alarms, go outside, usually have a cigarette, two minutes later they usually get turned off. But then an hour later the alarm went off again and I wasn't going to leave my room but I though oh well, I'm watching my phone so I'll go and have a cigarette.

"When I left my room I could smell smoke in the hallway so I went to towards the kitchen and yeah, there was smoke coming down the stairwell so I just sort of lapped around our floor knocking on doors saying 'Everyone out, this one's real'.

"You can't get on to different levels."

Loafers Lodge resident Simon Hanify.

Simon Hanify says a lot of people lost everything they own in the fire. Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

Hanify said there was a lot of uncertainty among residents who did not know where they would go or if there would be emergency accommodation available.

"A bit of a s****y night sitting on the chairs, excuse my French again, it'd be nice to get some clothes because most of us who just left in bare feet and I was lucky I left with my phone and my wallet because they just happened to be in my pocket. Other people haven't got their wallets, they've got no cards. The guys on the top floor have lost everything they own."

Another of the residents said she was woken by a phone call, not a fire alarm.

Miimetua Cameron has been living at the lodge for three years but her partner had been there for longer.

"Scary, I was like one of the last ones, someone rang me, I was asleep, I was one of the last ones to come out, everyone was already out on our floor.

"There was an alarm at half past ten but I didn't hear any alarm after that."

Cameron said she was worried about the elderly residents that lived in the building.

Miimetua Cameron, a resident of Loafers Lodge.

Miimetua Cameron lived at Loafers Lodge for three years. Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

An advocate said there were 501 deportees staying at Loafers Lodge in Wellington when the building caught fire.

Deportee advocate Filipa Payne said she had been talking to some of them, and believed there were possibly two deportees staying at the lodge who were still unaccounted for at 1.30pm.

They were some of society's most vulnerable people who had been through trauma and were stuck in the accommodation because they had nowhere else to go, she said.

It was a tragedy that should not have occurred, she said.

Fire crew struggling with aftermath

Firefighter Clark Townsley directed the first crew on the scene and went into the burning building himself.

"We encountered extremely challenging conditions," he said.

"The crews did everything they could to make access to the building. We made good headway. Unfortunately the fire conditions sort of pushed us back.

"But we certainly put in a 100 percent effort to do our best."

His crew was struggling with the aftermath.

"It always affects the crew when we don't have a positive result.

"Unfortunately it's part of the job but we're just having to look out for each other, and hopefully we get some support from FENZ to help us through the next while."

Crews used the only large ladder truck that was on hand in Wellington at the moment to bring down five residents who escaped to the roof.

Pressure on accommodation sector

Wellington City Council spokesperson Richard Maclean said the residents may be traumatised by the event.

Maclean said when he arrived at the hostel in the early hours of the morning many of those who were unharmed were walking around in just pyjama tops and bare feet.

One of the challenges now was the pressure that Loafers Lodge being out of commission would put on the accommodation sector, he said.

"The Loafers Lodge was quite a large accommodation provider in town, so now it's out of action, so that's obviously put pressure on the whole accommodation sector in the city. "

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