A massive SkyCity inferno continues to burn tonight but fire crews have sacrificed the Convention Centre roof to try to save the $700 million building.
One firefighter has been hospitalised as thick toxic smoke is still billowing across the CBD.
The inferno – believed to have been started by a worker’s blowtorch – is expected to burn overnight.
Fire and Emergency Auckland Regional Manager Ron Devlin said the SkyCity fire was one of the “largest and most difficult structure fires in recent times”.
“It is a complex fire. In the roof … bitumen, straw and plywood is compact and so we are having real difficulty getting into it.
“The roof is not safe to go onto, and the floors below are quite a distance below, so actually fighting and putting out the roof fire is very difficult.
“The plan was to cool and protect the area from surrounding parts of the building, but let the roof itself burn.
“It is the only safe way. It will take a while, 12 hours, maybe more.
“The fire is under control now, we are in a managed situation, we are just sacrificing the roof.”
Firefighters have been diverted from as far afield as Hamilton to battle the blaze, believed to have been started by a worker’s blowtorch on the roof of the new building. Sources say the fire ignited after the worker went on a smoko break about 1.15pm.
WATCH HOW THE FIRE UNFOLDED
Fire and Emergency assistant area commander Dave Woon said St John transported one person in a serious condition to Auckland Hospital.
The fire was “very difficult to extinguish” and was not yet under control. It started on the seventh floor and had since spread to the sixth floor. The fire has spread visibly across the rooftop in five hours, raising fears about the amount of damage.
The Auckland CBD is effectively sealed off with the closure of motorway on- and off-ramps. Officials have warned people to stay away from the scene, amid fears of the toxicity of the smoke.
Auckland CBD is effectively sealed off with the closure of motorway on- and off-ramps
“It is a large fire, involving gas cylinders … bitumen layers … it is a very, very difficult fire to extinguish,” he said.
“We are not on top of the fire, but with the resources just arrived we should be able to make progress.”
Fire trucks had just arrived from Hamilton. Woon said they had enough fire resources currently, but not if there was another major event.
Woon said the cause of the fire was not of concern at this stage.
But it is believed to have been started by a worker who went on a smoko break and left a blowtorch unattended.
Downtown Auckland is filled with billowing black smoke – which police warn could be toxic.
SkyCity casino and the Sky Tower have been evacuated and are closed until further notice.
Parts of Nelson Street and Wellesley Street are closed while firefighters battle the blaze, and traffic around SkyCity is now gridlocked. NZ Transport Agency is urging motorists to avoid the area.
Auckland office block air-conditioning units are being shut down to stop them dragging fumes and smokes into nearby commercial towers.
Account manager Charli Farman was sitting at her desk when she noticed smoke and told a colleague “I think it’s on fire”.
“It was a really small amount of thick black smoke.”
“Then all of a sudden it was flames and really dark smoke.”
Farman said a man in an orange construction vest was standing at the top of the building when the fire started.
“He was standing at the back for about four minutes but then he just ran when the flames started to spread”.
Construction worker Sandeep Patel said he was inside the building that is now on fire and had been evacuated.
“We have no idea what is going on, all of a sudden we were told to get out.”
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is reporting what he can see live on his official Twitter page.
“Fire is really building. People can be seen on the roof,” he wrote.
The SkyCity Convention Centre
• The $700m project is well underway, and is due to hold its first conference in October next year.
• Site: 1.4ha
• Floor space: 32,500sq m
• Equivalent to 4 rugby fields
• 33 meeting spaces of various sizes
• 5 times larger than existing NZ convention space
• Able to host events for up to 4000-plus people
• NZ’s largest theatre, able to seat 2850 people
• NZICC designed by Warren and Mahoney, Woods Bagot, Moller Architects
• 303-room 12-level Horizon Hotel by Warren and Mahoney, Moller Architects