New Zealand firefighters battle huge blaze at convention centre

Thick smoke billowing out of the SkyCity Convention Centre in Auckland yesterday. The building, which is under construction, is estimated to be the biggest construction project currently under way in New Zealand. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Thick smoke billowing out of the SkyCity Convention Centre in Auckland yesterday. The building, which is under construction, is estimated to be the biggest construction project currently under way in New Zealand. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WELLINGTON • A massive fire at a convention centre under construction in Auckland yesterday resulted in no casualties, according to emergency services, but the smoke billowing across New Zealand's largest city prompted the authorities to issue a health warning.

The alarm was first raised at around 1pm and hours later, with night falling, firefighters were still battling to put out the blaze which began on the roof of the SkyCity Convention Centre, a building large enough to cover four rugby fields.

Owned by New Zealand casino operator SkyCity Entertainment Group, the construction project, valued at NZ$703 million (S$614 million), was estimated by the media and analysts to be the biggest currently under way in New Zealand.

"There have been no reported injuries," SkyCity said on Twitter, adding that everyone was evacuated from the centre.

The nearby Sky Tower, New Zealand's tallest building and also a tourist attraction that accommodates hotels and offices, and a casino were also shut until further notice, SkyCity said.

A total of 23 fire trucks were part of the operation and fire services were likely to work through the night. Earlier in the day, firefighters were seen on the roof of the centre, desperately trying to extinguish the flames.

Witnesses posted videos of the blaze on Twitter.

"It's a very, very difficult fire to extinguish," Mr Dave Woon, a spokesman for Fire and Emergency New Zealand, told reporters.

"We are not on top of the fire but with the resources that have just arrived, we should be able to make progress. We don't have any injuries at the moment and we don't have anybody missing."

Traffic was gridlocked in the central business district (CBD) as emergency services flocked to the site. Roads were blocked off and people were advised to stay away.

Hundreds of hotel guests in the area were stranded, said media reports. Forced to find alternative accommodation for the night and unable to call a taxi, some tourists lugged their suitcases through the streets to leave the affected area.

"If you live or work in the Auckland CBD or surrounding areas, take precautionary measures to prevent breathing in smoke," the Auckland Regional Public Health Service said in an alert.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2019, with the headline 'NZ firefighters battle huge blaze at convention centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe