St James church hall's chequered history before suspicious blaze

Demolition has begun on the historic church hall in Mt Eden that burned down on Sunday night.

It had stood on the site since 1885 - but the St James church hall has had a chequered history. It's currently at the centre of an Environment Court battle after the Council refused developer View West consent to demolish the church and hall, citing the buildings' heritage value.

The building was often used as shelter by rough sleepers. Neighbours say the derelict property and the characters it attracted made them feel unsafe.

"We are always scared about who is trespassing on our property," one neighbour told Newshub.

But on a clear sunny afternoon it went up in flames. The cause of the fire is still unknown but fire investigators are treating it as suspicious and police are now involved.

Neighbour Gerry Goh says he could see where the fire started but didn't see anyone leave the area. He dialled 111 - one of many calls that flooded emergency services around 4:30pm.

But by the time the more than 70 fire crews arrived, the two-storey building was completely ablaze. Fire crews say no one was inside at the time of the blaze.

Vivek Gupta and his family were told by a fire crew to leave their home for the night. He was thankful the wind was blowing the opposite direction to his place.

"You can't breathe if you're standing here," he says.

"All the fire firefighters were here on our property and throwing the water from all directions."

It took fifteen fire trucks, including specialist aerial firefighting equipment, to get the blaze under control with crews returning Monday morning to dampen down hot spots.

"Conditions of the fire were in such a way we couldn't put people inside due to the risk of roof collapse," says fire and emergency assistant area commander Shaun Pilgrim.

Now demolition has started on the hall, one of the historic buildings will be gone by tomorrow and neighbours hope so will the problems that went with it.

Newshub tried to contact the developer on Monday, to no avail.