There is no sign of asbestos at the site of a fire in Auckland’s Māngere Bridge this morning, but Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) says it was concerned at the number of people living in the destroyed homes.
Firefighters from across Auckland raced to the large blaze, which was reported just before 3am. Five homes were razed in the fire.
Emergency services also evacuated houses neighbouring the blaze, which was next to the market garden and church opposite Black Bridge Reserve.
At least four Māngere schools were closed or advised to keep students inside for the day due to asbestos fears from the fire.
However, Auckland Council’s testing of samples from near the site has shown no sign of asbestos.
“Children and staff are now allowed outside in the grounds of two schools, Mountain View and OneSchool Global, and an early learning centre, Tadpoles,” said Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand medical officer of health, Dr Denise Barnfather.
Public health staff had earlier requested these schools keep their staff and children inside while an assessment of the asbestos risk was being carried out due to their proximity to the fire.
A second early learning centre, Namoa Christian Preschool in the Siasi Tokaikolo ‘ia Kalaisi church grounds, had closed this morning.
Barnfather said the samples taken from around the fire site contained no asbestos.
“As there was no wind and no explosion from the fire, the risk of asbestos being present in properties further away from the fire is very low,” she said.
Meanwhile, Fenz assistant commander Chris Delfos told RNZ’s Midday Report there were no sprinklers and no evidence of smoke alarms in the church buildings, which housed families in need.
Fenz was concerned at the number of people staying in the buildings. Delfos said they were more like garages than houses.
“We didn’t see or hear any smoke alarms. There definitely weren’t any sprinklers in the building, either. It was very lucky that all of these people got out of the fire in time.”
Residents take refuge
More than three dozen people living in the homes have now been taken in by a nearby Tongan church, where they were sheltering after losing their homes.
Earlier, several road blocks were in place manned by fire and police staff, with a stretch of Coronation Rd closed between Walmsley Rd and the Coronation Rd off-ramp to State Highway 20.
The off-ramp is now open but a section of Coronation Rd remains closed.
Fenz northern shift manager Gareth Lewis said multiple calls had come in from 2.58am about a house fire in the suburb.
“On arrival, we found multiple houses well involved in fire,” Lewis said.
Just after 5am, the blaze was at a third alarm, with 14 fire trucks in attendance, including three ladder trucks and three specialist appliances.
Everyone was accounted for and fire investigators were attending.
Crews attending include those from Māngere, Ōnehunga, Mt Roskill, Papatoetoe, Ōtāhuhu, Remuera, Balmoral, Ellerslie, Avondale, Auckland City and Ōtara.
Daylight shows twisted metal, buildings destroyed
After 7am, a Herald photographer said there were still four fire trucks at the scene and a ladder truck was still being used to hose down the smoking ruins of several buildings behind the church.
He said the buildings that had been destroyed were not like typical houses, describing them as more like small chalets.
Twisted corrugated iron is all that remains of most of the buildings.
A few people were still watching on.
It was the second major fire in the city overnight, with 13 fire trucks attending an earlier blaze at a refuse station on Auckland’s North Shore.
The fire at the North Shore Refuse Transfer Station in Rosedale was called in around 8.30pm. Crews attended for several hours before the fire was extinguished.
Fire investigators also attended the scene.