Authorities Say Kiwi Self Storage Not at Fault for Arson Fire

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Update 5/6/14 – Authorities in New Zealand have determined Kiwi Self Storage met all building-code requirements and the company is not at fault for the April 4 arson fire. Peter Dunne, the internal affairs minister, said he will not formally investigate the fire, despite a written plea from the facility’s tenants.

Annette King, a Parliament member who represents the suburb Rongotai, penned a letter to Dunne on behalf of the tenants, encouraging him to launch an investigation. In addition, tenants wrote to the company’s directors on Monday expressing their dissatisfaction with how the business handled the incident. They also requested an apology and compensation.

Peter Fowler, a storage tenant and spokesperson for the group, told the source Kiwi Self Storage was built to minimum standards, making it easier for the fire to spread quickly. He also said he believes the tenants have a solid case for legal action, as the company breached its duty of care to its customers.

Kiwi Self Storage Director Andrew Fraser said the facility met all building-code requirements and completed regular compliance checks and, therefore, did not breach its duty of care.


Update 4/15/14 – Police in Wellington, New Zealand, have arrested a man in connection with the April 4 fire at Kiwi Self Storage. The 34-year-old man, whose name has not been released to the public, appeared in a Wellington District Court today on a charge of arson, according to several news sources. Through his attorney, Douglas Ewen, the man entered a plea of not guilty and elected trial by jury. Ewen told the court the defendant would not seek bail and asked to be taken directly to Rimutaka Prison in Upper Hut, New Zealand.

Judge Kevin Glubb granted the man interim suppression of his name and the reason behind the request. While in court, the man pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge of driving on a suspended license. The judge continued the suspension for an additional nine months and sentenced the defendant to one month in prison. It was the man’s ninth driving suspension, according to news reports. His next court date is June 19.

Police made the arrest on Monday after serving a search warrant at an address in Johnsonville, a suburb of Wellington. Investigators also seized a vehicle they believe is relevant to the case, according to sources. The investigation is ongoing and police are now asking for anyone who may have seen a light-blue, 1994 Daihatsu Charade in Johnsonville or Kilbirnie between midnight and 1 a.m. on April 4 to contact them.

Victims of the fire have flooded media outlets with claims that they’ve been treated unfairly and given short windows to examine and collect what remains of their belongings, according to several news reports. The self-storage tenants told reporters they’ve been given little information since the fire and are planning a public meeting on Wednesday to voice their concerns. Conversely, representatives of the self-storage facility said they’ve been forthcoming with information and have been in regular contact with their tenants. Kiwi Self Storage Director Andrew Fraser told media sources nearly all 750 customers affected by the fire were contacted by phone or e-mail the day it happened. In addition, the company’s website is updated regularly with information for tenants and includes an FAQ page. Kiwi also set up a call center to handle queries.

On Saturday, the company posted a statement on its website requesting customers in a specific block to visit the facility and remove items by 5 p.m. on Monday. Anything left behind would be moved “aside” to enable access to other units. Fraser told news sources that anyone given a deadline of Monday had visited the facility over the weekend. In addition, rental payments have been suspended and refunds will likely be issued, according to sources.

In addition to other items lost in the blaze, music records belonging to Wellington DJ Danny Lemon were destroyed. Lemmon sifted through the charred remains of his unit over the weekend, hoping to find anything from his 8,500-record collection still intact. Lemon, founder of the entertainment group Roots Foundation Sound System, told reporters his collection is worth an estimated $100,000 and includes boxes of 7-inch singles and original pressings from Wackie's, an American independent record label. The local DJ is one of dozens of tenants without insurance to cover their losses. Lemon reports he has received outreach from people around the world offering to help replace his collection.


Updated 4/11/14 – A victim of Kiwi Self-Storage’s massive fire has launched a support group to help tenants without insurance raise money to cover their losses. Artist Megan Ransom, a resident of Wellington, started a Facebook group Kiwi Inferno Storage to explore legal avenues available to victims and seek compensation.

Ransom’s bronze sculpting tools and household items were destroyed in the fire. Upon inspecting her second-floor unit on Thursday, she told the source the only recognizable item was the remnants of a washing machine. The contents of the unit were worth an estimated $20,000 to $50,000, she said. Ransom, who doesn’t have insurance to cover the loss, said her career has “basically stopped.”

Police released surveillance video on Wednesday of a man carrying a 25-litre tank into the building prior to the explosion.


Update 4/9/14
– Investigators now believe the fire that burned for nearly 24 hours at Kiwi Self Storage was likely ignited by an accelerant that led to an explosion. Police are seeking the public’s help in identifying a man who appears on the facility’s surveillance video accessing a unit in the building where the fire started.

Police told reporters at the scene today that camera footage shows the man entering the facility’s security gate and accessing a unit just after midnight on Friday. In the video, he’s wearing a black sweatshirt under a white t-shirt and a white and yellow cap. Authorities said the man appeared to have a large canister of petrol. In addition, police have interviewed the tenant renting the unit where the fire began and believe his space may have been targeted, according to the source.

The video footage shows the suspect did not force his way through the security gate. Neither the start of the fire, nor the explosion were recorded, according to the source.

Kiwi Self Storage will reopen the facility on Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., to tenants with units is Blocks A, C, D and most of E, according to the company website. Access will be unlimited for customers who do not bring a vehicle inside the facility. Those with vehicles will have limited access and allowed on the premises on a first-come, first-served basis. Appointments are not being accepted at this time.

Company representatives began contacting tenants with units on the upper level of Block B on Wednesday. Customers can call the facility and make an appointment to have their belongings removed from their unit. 


Update 4/8/14 – Although still under investigation, the fire at Kiwi Self Storage was likely arson, police and fire investigators have reported. Firefighters contained the blaze by Friday evening, but it wasn’t completely extinguished until Saturday morning, according to facility website.

Units on the second level of Block B containing the numbers 200, 300, 1000, 1100 and 1200 suffered the most damage. Units on the first floor had water and other damage. The facility remains closed to all tenants to allow engineering firms to make it safe for entry, according to facility officials. Security personnel continue to patrol the site.

On Monday, facility representatives began preparing to remove belongings from the 170 units on the ground floor of the destroyed building. Customers were encourage to make an appointment so they can be present during the process. The belongings were released into their care, or customers could request them to be transported to a new location, including storage units at other facilities, according to the Kiwi website. The storage operator assisted in the transportation and said customers would not incur charges for removal assistance, transportation or storage of their belongings for the first month at an alternative location.

As of Tuesday, the belongings for 20 customers were removed from the ground-floor units. Contractors continue to work on making the upper level safe and are placing tarpaulins over exposed areas. Removal of property from the upper floor might begin later this week, company officials said. Kiwi hopes to reopen the whole facility on Thursday, but will limit the number and duration of visitors.


A huge fire at Kiwi Self Storage in Kilbirnie, Wellington, New Zealand, on Friday morning destroyed movie memorabilia belonging to “Lord of the Rings” cinematographer Alex Funke as well as political documents owned by Wellington Regional Council Chairperson Fran Wilde. Fire crews were called to 165 Rongotai Road at 12:45 a.m. after a two-story, 750-unit building became engulfed in flames. The other four buildings on the property were largely undamaged, according to news reports.

Funke told sources his top-floor unit contained two Oscar Academy Awards as well as his British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award and personal camera equipment. He said the loss is “very upsetting,” though he believes his Oscars can be replaced. He received the awards for “Best Visual Effects” on “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” in 2003 and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in 2004. He also received a Special Achievement Award in 1991 for “Total Recall.”

It took more than 30 firefighters several hours to get the five-alarm blaze under control, according to several news sources. A digger was used to open one end of the building, allowing the heat to dissipate and enabling firefighters to reach the interior, according to Paul Smith, assistant district area commander. This allowed fire crews to tackle the units one at time. The firefighters will soon turn their attention to tamping down hot spots to ensure the fire doesn’t reignite. No one was seriously injured, but one firefighter did suffer mild heat stress.

The self-storage facility, which is next to the Kilbirnie Fire Station, has no sprinkler systems in its buildings. Kiwi Self Storage Director Andrew Fraser told the source installing sprinklers is not an industry standard, but the company will now consider them for its other properties.

Kiwi Self Storage has two facilities in Wellington, Australia, and another three in Auckland, New Zealand. The company has posted detailed information about the fire on its website to keep customers apprised. According to the most recent update, Kiwi Self Storage has arranged for security to patrol the site. For now, the facility is closed and will be subject to fire and police investigations. Officials will provide more information regarding the extent of damage as it becomes available.

 

Sources:

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