Firefighters armed with hoses had to scramble up 21 flights of stairs to put out a blaze in the roof of an Auckland skyscraper after crews discovered firefighting equipment in the building was broken.
The fire, which sent plumes of black smoke billowing into the Auckland skyline yesterday, is believed to have been caused by workmen using a gas torch to cut metal, Roger Callister, the Fire Service's central Auckland assistant area commander said.
The water tower cooler on the roof of the CBD building caught alight about 3pm.
Several crews rushed to the scene after they saw flames licking the sky and lots of smoke coming out of the building while they were still at the station.
Callister said the contractors who were doing renovations on the building should have had a hot works permit to do gas cutting and Auckland Council is now investigating whether the workers were complying with the building code's fire regulations.
But the fire service's major concern, Callister told the Herald, was that the fire riser - a big steel pipe and pump system which would have allowed firefighters to pump water from the ground floor to the roof - wasn't working properly.
Panic ensued when firefighters, who had already rushed to the top floor, realised the water wasn't flowing through the pump.
Twelve firefighters then ran metres and metres of hose connected to a fire truck "round and round" up the stairs of the 21-storey building, Callister said.
"The fire, to all intents and purposes, was a really easy fire. The fire would have been out in seconds if we had the water from the floor."
But it took 40 minutes to put out because of the issues the firefighters faced with the building's equipment.
About 40 firefighters were sent to the scene, Callister said.
The Fire Service usually sends two engines and eight firefighters to fires in the city.
"To be honest, the majority of the fire had actually burnt out, luckily, before we got water to it."
However, the situation could have been a lot worse, he said.
"We dodged a bullet."
Had the fire had been in the middle of the skyscraper the whole building would have filled with smoke because the smoke stop door had been removed from the stairwell during the renovations.
"That would have been extremely dangerous," Callister said.
"If it had been mid-structure we probably would have still been down there today."
Callister told the Herald the Fire Service's risk management department had raised concerns about fire hazards with the construction company, Dominion Constructors Ltd, before the fire started.
The Herald has contacted Dominion Constructors Ltd for comment.