Watch: Authorities provide update after large fire at Wellington's Loafers Lodge

4:47 pm on 16 May 2023

Representatives from emergency services, Wellington Council and Chief Coroner Judge Anna Tutton are providing an update on the fire at Loafers Lodge at 4.30pm.

A large fire broke out at the lodge in Newtown in the early hours of the morning, leaving multiple people injured.

Area commander Dion Bennett said police did not have a confirmed number of fatalities - the purpose of the extensive scene examination was to clarify that figure.

However, FENZ assistant national commander Bruce Stubbs said at this stage there were "six people inside" but they had been unable to search all of the building due to extensive damage.

Stubbs said there was a "significant amount of damage from the roof collapse but at this stage we have located six people".

"We won't know ... how those people perished at this stage until we work with police and our fire investigators to determine that with the coroner... At the moment I'm working on the six and police are working with their teams to determine other people.

"So we have treated them with respect and ensured that the evidence and the scene around them is made safe, but there is some instability in the roof structure. We've had our urban search and rescue technicians supporting our frontline firefighters to ensure that when we have people inside the building it is a safe place to be.

"There is roof collapse in the top floor, that's where there is a lot of debris ... inside the top floor there is a lot of destruction."

Bennett said the cause would not be known until after the scene examination was completed.

He asked people to not speculate on the cause.

"We don't know what has caused the fire, hence the reason for the examination that is required now... this has been the early stages and as you can imagine, the priority has been to identify those people who were here last night and locate them."

Investigative teams from around the country had been brought in to assist.

Police expected to enter the building tomorrow morning, he said.

Police were yet to "fully reconcile" who was there and who was not.

"We urge anyone - family, friends or concerned people if you have information... to please phone the police 105 non-emergency number."

Police had six staff working on identifying who was there and that number would grow, he said.

Coronial process

Chief Coroner Judge Anna Tutton could not say how long identification would take.

"Identification can be a painstaking, slow process, particularly when people are severely injured."

"I appreciate that this is an unimaginably terrible time for those who have lost someone they love.

"It has been reported to the coroner that deaths have occurred as a result of the fire. Legally, the bodies of the victims of this tragedy are in the custody of the coroner. But as you have heard it hasn't yet been possible to recover them from the scene.

"Once recovery of the victims is possible, they will be treated with dignity and respect and where known, specific cultural needs will be metto the greatest extent possible."

The bodies would be kept at a mortuary until they could be safely reunited with their families, Tutton said.

"Coroners have a specific role under the law. That includes making decisions about post-mortem examinations and with the assistance of police and other specialists, determining the identity of the victims."

That process took time.

While families would want their relatives back, the authorities had to get it right.

"The last thing we want is to have a family further traumatised by having someone other than the person they love returned to them as we know has happened numerous times in relation to similar tragedies overseas."

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau said aboiut 50 people had been displaced and all had been sent to a nearby emergency centre. Almost 20 had been put into other accommodation and agencies such as the Ministry of Social Development had provided access to blankets, food and showers.

A mayoral relief fund worth $50,000 had been set up, and Whanau asked the public if they wanted to contribute.

"This just ensures that the families... who have lost people in this fire and who have been displaced have the support that they need."

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