WELLINGTON – New Zealand police said Thursday they had arrested a man and charged him with two counts of arson in connection with the fire at a Wellington hostel that killed at least six people.
Police said the investigation is ongoing and they could file more serious charges in relation to the deaths at the scene. Earlier, police said they had launched a homicide investigation.
Police Inspector Dion Bennett said Thursday they are confident they're not seeking anybody else in connection with the fire.
The suspect, who was not immediately named by police, is scheduled to make his first appearance Friday at the Wellington District Court.
Earlier, police removed the first two bodies from the Loafers Lodge hostel and said they planned to remove the next two on Friday. Bennett said it's possible they could find more victims as officers continue their scene examination.
“The damage on the third floor is significant,” Bennett told reporters. “The debris is piled high, and there is much for them to move and search underneath.”
Bennett declined to say if they had found accelerant or other evidence of criminal behavior at the scene.
Police said there had been a couch fire at the Loafers Lodge hostel about two hours before the large, fatal fire on Tuesday. They said the couch fire was not reported to emergency services at the time, and they were investigating to see if there was any link between the two fires.
The fire ripped through the building at about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, forcing some people to flee in their pajamas. Others were rescued by firefighters from the roof or dived from windows.
The Loafers Lodge offered 92 basic, affordable rooms with shared lounges, kitchens and laundry facilities to people of a wide range of ages. Some people were placed there by government agencies. Others worked at a nearby hospital.
Emergency officials said the building had no fire sprinklers. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the nation's building codes did not require sprinklers in older buildings that would need to be retrofitted.
“I have asked the Minister for Housing to look particularly at issues around building regulations to see whether there’s anything more that we should be doing right at this point," Hipkins told reporters Wednesday.