Jamie Whittaker escaped a burning apartment building in
Auckland this morning. Photo: Matthew Theunissen
A fire which engulfed a downtown Auckland apartment
building this morning is being treated as suspicious.
Four people were rescued from the two-storey building on
Commerce St, including two men who climbed onto the roof to
escape the fire.
One young woman, who braved the smoke-filled corridor to wake
her neighbours, was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation
and a cut hand, sustained as she tried to smash glass to
access the fire alarm.
Two firefighters were treated at the scene for cuts and
Fire investigator Mike McEnaney said the blaze was being
treated as suspicious and had been referred to police.
Mr McEnaney said the fire exits were adequate but it appeared
the alarm system was not working properly.
"That's a very serious concern, because the purpose of those
is to give early warning to evacuate people," he said.
Building manager Jonathan Kim said the alarm was tested
monthly and he believed it was working.
The blaze was reported to the Fire Service about 7.15am.
One resident, Jamie Whittaker, woke as smoke filled his room.
"I (saw) flames coming up through the roof, up through the
skylight, so I woke everybody up and said, 'We've got to get
out of here, there's a fire'.
"Everyone started getting up and panicking, running around
trying to put clothes on, things like that. Two of them went
up onto the roof and me and another one smashed the back
"We were going to jump down because we were one floor up and
the walls were starting to get really hot but then
fortunately the fire guys came round just in time and put the
ladder up and we were able to climb down."
He said he feared for his life as he tried to escape the
smoke and flames.
"We were very close, definitely. We couldn't get out the fire
escape because the fire escape was blocked."
He did not know the extent of damage to his apartment or
Another resident, Simon Che de Boer said he went into "fight
or flight" mode and climbed a ladder onto the roof.
He said he felt like a "gargoyle" as he clambered around the
hot roof looking for a safe spot.
"My immediate concern was I was going to step on something,
that I was going to fall ... because it was, like, you could
feel it [the fire] beneath you."
He found a corner of the roof away from the heat and
firefighters were able to get him down on a ladder.
His girlfriend did not go onto the roof with him and instead
rushed down the smoke-filled corridor to wake other
"She actually ran into the smoke - ran into the black -
knocked on the neighbours' doors, knocked on the other
neighbours' doors, in complete blackness.
"If it wasn't for her I don't think the neighbours would have
made it out ... they would have been fast asleep, they
wouldn't have known."
She was taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation,
but was "okay", Mr Che de Boer said.
"I don't think my flat probably made it. I've lived there for
seven years, I have a lovely apartment - I had a lovely
apartment. I don't know."
Vera Yang, her partner and their young son were sitting on
the pavement outside the building with a laundry basket
containing some clothes and a suitcase - all they had managed
to grab as they fled.
"I was having a shower and I smelled something burning. I
thought my son was using the toaster but he wasn't so I
looked out the windows and there was so much smoke outside,"
"It was very frightening. I was just thinking what we could
do, just run, grab clothes and laptop and just run."
She did not know whether their apartment had been damaged or
"We're just waiting," she said.