A 48-year-old man has been charged with five counts of murder in connection with a fatal fire at a hostel in Wellington, New Zealand. The man was previously detained and charged with arson following the incident at Loafers Lodge last month. The tragic event has reignited discussions about the nation’s housing crisis, as the hostel provided emergency accommodation for vulnerable and marginalised individuals, as well as short-term lodging for nearby hospital workers.
Wellington Police announced the charges on Thursday but did not reveal any details about the allegations. The fire occurred on May 16, just after midnight local time, claiming the lives of five men aged between 50 and 67. Authorities launched a homicide inquiry soon after the incident, treating the fire as an act of arson.
On the night of the blaze, at least 99 residents were living in the building. Some were forced to crawl through smoke to reach safety, while others waited on the roof to be rescued. Tala Sili, one of the lodgers, recounted his harrowing experience of jumping from his window to escape the flames. He told national broadcaster RNZ, “I was on the top floor, and I couldn’t go through the hallway because there was just too much smoke so I jumped out the window. It smelt like poison.”
In the aftermath of the fire, there were conflicting reports from residents about whether smoke alarms had sounded in the building. Wellington’s fire authorities have not yet confirmed these details.
The incident has brought attention to the housing crisis in New Zealand, where many people are unable to access the property market due to soaring prices, increasing rents, and a lack of government-subsidised homes. The use of emergency housing has also surged during the pandemic. According to government data, this temporary solution has become a long-term option for many individuals in the country.
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