By Tom Taylor of RNZ
A fire at a 48-home Kāinga Ora development in East Auckland is being treated as suspicious by police.
The fire broke out in one block of the development on Guys Road in Huntington Park early on Monday morning and quickly engulfed the building.
Neighbours say there had been some tension surrounding the development since it was announced earlier this year.
At 5am on Monday, neighbour Hannah woke to the sound of glass smashing on to gravel.
“Before we even got up, it was already in flames,” she said.
“It was orange – the heat was so intense – and it just ripped through it. It was just so fast.”
Her mum Sue said she rang 111, but by then the flames engulfing the development across the road were already up to the third storey.
“Our windows were hot, really hot,” she said.
“We had a neighbour down the road running up checking everyone was okay, yelling at the gates of everyone’s houses to try and get everyone out.”
Hannah said she was afraid the fire would spread to neighbouring houses, or even across the road.
“The embers were coming through on to our property. It just makes you realise how powerful fire is and how dangerous it is. It was scary.”
A six-unit block in the development, where construction was well under way, went up in flames, while the other eight blocks appeared unscathed.
Developers Gemscott declined to comment, other than to express their gratitude to the first responders and say they were thankful no one was hurt.
A construction worker on site on Tuesday said the damaged block had been ready for plasterboarding.
But now, workers were ripping apart what was left of the building and seeing what could be salvaged.
Police confirmed they were treating the fire as suspicious.
Residents not consulted
The community of Huntington Park has held some heated meetings about the development, which the developers were set to sell to Kāinga Ora upon its completion in mid-2024.
One neighbour showed Checkpoint a community newsletter calling on residents to donate anything from $10 to $10,000 to an action group opposing the development.
Sue said there was some angst among people in the neighbourhood.
“This went ahead without any consultation with the neighbours.
“No one knew what was happening here, and it wasn’t until we got the first letter from Kāinga Ora saying this development was going ahead, but they had already demolished the house [previously on the property] and excavated.”
In March, Kāinga Ora wrote to residents letting them know the Guys Rd development would be turned into 48 public housing units.
But residents said the project was already well under way by then.
One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said she had nothing against the development in general, but the scale of this project worried her.
“If they build a very high-density building there, and everyone moves in, and there’s a fire again, I can’t imagine what will happen,” she said.
“The road is too narrow, and maybe a fire truck cannot come in, because of the cars parked on the side of the road.”
Another neighbour, Santiago, said although the construction had caused his family a lot of disturbance and loss of privacy, they had never disputed it themselves.
He said the circumstances of the fire were dubious.
“It was five in the morning; the night was raining so everything was wet.
“It needs to be a place that was really, really dry to start the fire.”
But he did not want to believe that someone started the fire on purpose.
“If it was somebody trying to do justice by his own hand, it was really dangerous. If the fire was bigger, people could be injured or people could die.”
Kāinga Ora said once Fire and Emergency had concluded its investigations, the agency would work with developers Gemscott to understand the impact the fire would have on the completion date of the project.
Regional director of Central and East Auckland John Tubberty said the fire would delay the completion of homes for families who needed them.
“We have been contacted by people to express their concern about the issue,” he said.
“It is still too early to know exactly how long any delays will be.”
Tubberty said the development at Guys Rd and Cottesmore Pl would predominantly house small families.
He said as of March 31, almost 300 families and individuals were on the Ministry of Social Development’s housing register for East Auckland.
“The Huntington Park development will eventually provide 48 homes for families in need of a modern, warm, and dry place to call home.
“It’s really sad that this fire will be forcing families to live in less than desirable conditions in the meantime.”
When completed, the development would hold a mix of one, two, and three-bedroom homes.
Police said an initial scene examination had been conducted, but investigations were ongoing.
They requested anyone with information to come forward.
People could contact 105 quoting the file number 230724/0959 or provide information anonymously through Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.