Published On: Tue, May 23rd, 2023
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Victims killed in devastating New Zealand hostel fire named for first time | World | News

New Zealand police have now officially named three victims of the hostel fire in Wellington which left a total of five people dead. Among those named victims is a well-known figure in Wellington, known as Mike the Juggler.

The family of Michael Wahrlich, 67, who was well-known around Wellington for his street juggling, said they are heartbroken to learn that he perished in the disaster.

Wahrlich frequently appeared on the street juggling “with a big smile on his face”, reports the New Zealand Herald.

A police statement noted: “He always enjoyed entertaining the people of Wellington and will be sadly missed by the family and all who knew him.”

Melvin Joseph Parun, age 68, was the second fire victim named by authorities, while the third was 64-year-old Peter Glenn O’Sullivan.

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Inspector Dion Bennett, the acting Wellington District Commander, stated that formal identification efforts are still being made for the other victims.

In another development, a man accused of two counts of arson related to the fire appeared in court for the first time.

During the hearing, the defendant did not enter a plea and was remanded in custody until their next court appearance scheduled for June 19.

If convicted, the accused could face a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison for the charges. 

The police are treating the case as a homicide investigation and may consider adding more severe charges at a later stage.

Police Inspector Dion Bennett did not provide an explanation for the revision in the death toll, which had initially been reported as six since Tuesday, shortly after the Loafers Lodge fire ripped through the building.

However, Inspector Bennett did mention that due to structural damage caused by the fire, certain areas of the building remain inaccessible, preventing a thorough search of the premises.

Mr Bennett said: “The scene examination in itself, and in the third floor in particular, is quite dangerous, and there are still parts we can’t cross.”

The deadly fire ripped through the building at about 12:30a.m. last Tuesday, forcing some people to flee in their pajamas. Others were rescued by firefighters from the roof or jumped from windows.

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, which are not required in older buildings that would need to be retrofitted.

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said he’d asked his housing minister to investigate current building regulations to see if they need changing.

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