Alex Funke. Photo APNZ
Anguished owners of belongings stored in a Wellington
storage unit razed by fire this morning have gathered at the
scene of the blaze to learn the fate of their possessions.
Central fire communications shift manager Jan Wills said the
fire broke out at the Kiwi Self Storage facility in
Kilbirnie's Rongotai Rd, near Wellington Airport, around
It was classified "fifth alarm" - the most extreme end of the
Fire Service's response scale.
Fire Service spokeswoman Karlum Latimore is urging residents
and businesses to close all windows and doors.
"We're still waiting for a pollution officer to tell us
what's in the smoke."
The smoke was thick around the Warehouse complex at Lyall Bay
and she said people should avoid it if possible to stay out
of any danger.
A cinematographer who worked on Sir Peter Jackson's Lord of
the Rings trilogy, Alex Funke, feared a couple of Oscar
awards have been lost in the blaze.
"Where that smoke right there is," he said, pointing to the
unit most damaged.
The awards were for the Two Towers and Return of the King.
Mr Funke believed the Academy would be able to replace the
"But it's not quite the same thing is it."
He said there were also some Bafta awards in the unit.
"But more important is all my camera equipment that was in
He did not realise the units did not have sprinklers until
Mr Funke didn't know how much the items were worth but "a
great deal of personal value".
"It's very upsetting, you put stuff in a storeroom and you
say 'Well, it's safe, nobody's going to steal it, it's never
going to burn down' - well obviously next time put it in a
place with sprinklers."
Martin Cahill said he had some boxes of books and items that
belonged to his parents inside the storage facility. "I just
want to find out how it started."
His items were at "ground zero" and would be completely
destroyed, he said.
Chris Vee, who owns a bridal store in central Wellington,
said she had all her stock in one of the storage units.
She had yet to learn whether the gowns were damaged by the
flames, but they would be almost definitely smoke damaged she
No neighbouring properties were threatened by the fire. There
were no reports of anyone being in the building, however a
fire fighter had been treated for minor heat exhaustion, Ms
The origin of the blaze and how it had spread so quickly was
Neighbour Tere Harrison said she was woken by sirens about
1am. She said she wasn't too worried about the flames,
however her house overwhelmingly smelled of smoke.
Many units contained classic cars, she said. "I don't know
the owners, but we see them drive out every weekend."
Wellington Fire Service assistant area commander Paul Smith
said flames were still burning, more than seven hours after
the fire started.
"We're in defensive mode - that means the guys are on the
outside basically using aerial appliances putting some water
on the fire."
It was a complex job with a large number of combustible
material and passageways, he said.
"The guys have had a lot to deal with and they've done a
really good job so far."
Everything inside the affected units was destroyed, he said.
A fire investigator was at the scene, but would need to wait
until the last flames were extinguished before being able to
get near the unit, "which could be some time yet", Mr Smith
Crews were preparing to pull the roof off the unit to direct
water on the flames still blazing inside, he said.
"If that plan works then we'll advance that along through the
The biggest problem they were facing was the roof and the
walls were still intact and fire crews could not get to the
flames, Mr Smith said.
About 80 firefighters are working on containing the fire, he
"We'll be here probably for the rest of the day at least."
There were concerns part of the unit could collapse - which
crews were avoiding as a result, Mr Smith said.
It was the biggest fire Wellington had seen for a long time,
A Wellington Airport spokeswoman said the fire had not
Meanwhile, a fire at an Auckland warehouse overnight also
received a strong response from the Fire Service, with 15
engines and 65 fire fighters battling the blaze at its peak.
Northern fire communications shift manager Colin Underdown
said the fire, in Onehunga's Alfred St, was reported just
The fire, at the 100 metre by 20m building was "well involved
on arrival", he said.
"We had multiple calls to it, there was lots of flames
showing when they arrived."
It was unknown what the warehouse contained and the fire did
not threaten neighbouring buildings, Mr Underdown said.
No one was believed to be in the building when the fire broke
The blaze had since been extinguished, and one truck remained
at the scene on stand-by, he said.
Fire investigators would be trying to ascertain the cause of
the fire later today.