Firefighters dealing with fire in multi-flat residence in Lower Hutt

1:15 pm on 7 December 2023
Fire at Kainga Ora complex in Avalon in Lower Hutt

Emergency services at the scene. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Residents of a Kāinga Ora housing complex in the Lower Hutt suburb of Avalon have been evacuated after a blaze started in one of the units.

Police have confirmed one person was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and all the other residents were accounted for.

Emergency services were called to the multi-flat complex in Oxford Street, between Harrison Crescent and Walters Street, just before 11am. The fire has now been extinguished.

Fire and Emergency shift manager Murray Dunbar said the agency was alerted to the blaze by a smoke alarm system connected directly to the local station. Five fire engines and three support vehicles from several stations around the region attended.

Firefighters from Avalon, Seaview, Stokes Valley, Remutaka, Wellington City, Thorndon and Hutt City stations attended.

Specialist fire investigators are at the site to determine the cause of the blaze.

The fire seemed to have started in a unit on the top floor of the three-storey building, Dunbar said.

Fire at Kainga Ora complex in Avalon in Lower Hutt

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

That unit was badly burnt and others were damaged by smoke and water from the building's sprinkler system.

The police said several roads were closed, with cordons at Walters Street and Oxford Terrace; Walters Street and High Street; and Oxford Terrace and Harrison Crescent.

Motorists in the area should expect delays and use alternative routes if possible.

Kāinga Ora Greater Wellington regional director Vicki McLaren said the agency was supporting affected residents.

"We can confirm there was a fire at one of our older public housing blocks in Oxford Terrace, Avalon. All occupants from the 12 units are safe and accounted for," she said.

"Our team is actively providing support and assistance to the affected residents during this challenging time."

Evacuated residents await news

In the afternoon, about a dozen evacuated residents - including elderly people, young families and pets - stood across the road from the apartment complex, anxiously waiting to hear when they would be allowed to re-enter their homes and check the damage.

One young couple with a 10-month-old baby told RNZ they were alerted by alarms going off shortly before 11am.

"We came outside thinking it was a fire drill until someone turned around and said 'Your building is on fire', and then it was just chaotic," the young father said.

"The unit that was on fire, the flames were coming out, it was just really intense. It was really scary because my baby was freaking out.

"The main thing is, she's safe, everybody's safe."

The third floor apartment where the fire started has had all its windows smashed, revealing the blackened interior.

It is likely other units would have smoke and water damage, with a constant stream still gushing out of the ground floor more than an hour after the fire was extinguished.

Another resident from the floor below said there were at least two people living in the flat where the fire broke out, but they also had visitors at the time.

She said it was fortunate for other residents that the fire was on the top floor, because the thick smoke could have made it difficult to get out otherwise.

"We went downstairs and I saw smoke and the flooding from the fire sprinklers in the hallway and I just said to my partner, 'Go get my cat'.

"We had to put him in my neighbour's car because we couldn't get the cat carrier, we had to get him and leave."

She was hopeful they would be allowed home today.

"I don't know if there's any damage to our place from the water, there will certainly be noxious smoke everywhere, so we'll have to air it all out."