New Zealand hostel fire that killed 6 was arson, police say

Fire-damaged hostel in Wellington, New Zealand
A fire that ripped through a hostel in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, killing at least six people, is being blamed on arson.
(George Heard / New Zealand Herald)

New Zealand police have launched a homicide investigation into a deadly fire that killed six people at a Wellington hostel and that they said Wednesday was the result of arson.

Inspector Dion Bennett said that police had not yet arrested anyone but that they had a list of people they want to speak to. He declined to say whether they had found accelerant or other evidence of criminal behavior at the scene.

Police said there had been a couch fire at the Loafers Lodge hostel about two hours before the large, fatal blaze Tuesday. They said that the couch fire was not reported to emergency services at the time and that they were investigating a possible link between the two fires.


Bennett also told reporters that there was more reconnaissance and examination to be done in some unstable parts of the four-story hostel and that he believes the death toll could rise.

The homicide investigation represents a change in outlook by police, who Tuesday said they didn’t believe the fire was deliberately set.

Bennett said police had accounted for 92 people who were in the hostel and had a list of fewer than 20 others who remained unaccounted for, although they were not necessarily missing. Police had earlier said they expected that the death toll would not exceed 10.

An arson suspect is wanted after a fire at an Santa Ana auto parts store. Surveillance video shows a man holding a gun and pouring liquid moments before.

March 23, 2023

News outlet RNZ identified Liam Hockings, a journalist, as one of the hostel’s residents who was missing. RNZ said Hockings is the brother of the BBC presenter Lucy Hockings.

The fire ripped through the building early Tuesday, forcing some people to flee in their pajamas. Others were rescued by firefighters from the roof or jumped out of windows.

The Loafers Lodge offered 92 basic, affordable rooms with shared lounges, kitchens and laundry facilities to people of a wide range of ages. Some people were placed there by government agencies and were considered vulnerable because they had little in the way of resources or support networks. Others worked at a nearby hospital.


Emergency officials said the building had no fire sprinklers. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said that under New Zealand building codes, sprinklers were not required in older buildings that would need to be retrofitted.

“I have asked the minister for housing to look particularly at issues around building regulations to see whether there’s anything more that we should be doing right at this point,” Hipkins told reporters Wednesday.