As it happened: SkyCity convention centre fire burns for a third day

The fight against fire at the partially-built International Convention Centre at SkyCity entered its third day on Thursday.

What you need to know: 

  • The massive fire that began on Tuesday continued to burn on Thursday evening, but is under control
  • Fire and Emergency New Zealand crews remained at the scene overnight on Wednesday.
  • Numerous nearby businesses were evacuated, including the entire SkyCity precinct and TVNZ headquarters.
  • Fire and Emergency NZ has confirmed the roof of the building will be sacrificed to allow firefighters better access to the blaze. 
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed APEC will proceed in 2021 at a different New Zealand location.
  • Auckland Regional Public Health Service has compiled advice on how to deal with the heavy smoke and public health.
  • Live video showed the flames were still easily visible on Thursday morning.


7:35pm - Fire crews are continuing their efforts, focusing on hotspots and preventing any flare-ups.

7:23pm - About 70 firefighters will continue to work through the night, FENZ says.

7:19pm - FENZ says it's working with authorities to increase access to the area in the CBD.

A cordon will remain in place in the immediate vicinity of the fire.

7:00pm - SkyCity says it will carry out a review of its crisis management plan in the aftermath of the fire.

It comes as more SkyCity workers and customers criticise the company's performance.

One worker says it's riduculous she was told to start work at 4pm, more than two hours after the fire started. 

6:41pm - The SkyCity casino will be open again at 8pm. It comes after chief executive Graeme Stephens said they planned to open parts of the business from Thursday evening.

6:22pm - Millions of litres of potentially contaminated water is being pumped into the Waitemata Harbour following the fire.

Newshub reporter Lisette Reymer says the water may be contaminated by combustion products.

She says a full report on the water will take another week.

5:35pm - The Fire Protection Association says reports an alarm system in the Convention Centre failed to operate, and that sprinklers did not work, are incorrect.

The association says automatic fire alarms can only be commissioned at the final stages of construction, as things like dust can cause repeated false alarms.

All required fire protection and detection systems were being installed and were operational, the association says.

5:05pm - Incident controller Murray Binning says they will start reducing cordons in the area, but they need to be able to shift cranes when needed.

He says the recovery phase will continue overnight and possibly into Friday.

3:42pm - Officials say the focus is now on extinguishing hotspots.

Fire and Emergency warns it is still dealing with an active fire and people should not be alarmed if they see flare-ups.

Incident Controller Murray Binning says the number of fire trucks at the scene has now been cut by a third.

3:13pm - The water in the basement is about a metre and half deep, Vigar said.

He said the water being pumped into the harbour is likely contaminated with "combustion products". He said toxic compounds can be associated with that and could have "human health impacts" and "ecological impacts". That could have an impact for "a while".

Vigar believes the worst case scenario is an impact on algae and shellfish. He said the human health impact was being managed. 

3:10pm - Binning said the wind was affecting when they could use a crane to lift firefighters up near to the roof.

He said FENZ alongside Auckland Transport are looking at if any roads could be opened.

The amount of water being pumped onto the flames has been "significantly" reduced.

3:05pm - Nick Vigar from SafeSwim says there is a signifcant amount of water in the centre's basement. He estimates there about 8 million litres. The level of contamination is not yet known.

It is being pumped out into the stormwater system which goes flows into St Marys Bay. They are determining whether it can go into the wastewater system.

3pm - Murray Binning from FENZ says the fire is still active even though it is not visible. But he said firefighters are now in a "recovery" phase and are putting out flare-ups. That will likely continue into the night and Friday.

If a flare-up happens with a lot of smoke and flames, the public should not be alarmed. Binning stresses the fire is controlled. The smoke that billowed from the centre at about 1:40pm was the result of a flare-up.

A cordon will likely remain around the building.

2:55pm - We are livestreaming the press conference being held by FENZ and Auckland Council's SafeSwim at 3pm.

2:45pm - The dark smoke that began billowing from the centre about an hour ago has largely cleared up. Firefighters are currently hosing down the fire while standing on a platform lifted in the air by a crane.

The suspended platform is being pushed around in the strong wind.

2:35pm - The fire in Auckland's SkyCity convention centre is under control but toxins from the smoke are expected to persist for a long time after the fire has been put out.

Smoke is a mixture of toxic gases and particulates. What particulates are present depends entirely on what has been burnt, according to air-quality testing organisation K2 Environmental. 

1:50pm - A large amount of dark smoke has again begun billowing from the centre as shown on the livestream below.

1:35pm - An update on Auckland Council's SafeSwim website at 12:34pm reports a "chemical spill" at St Marys Bay, which is located near the SkyCity blaze. The Council has confirmed this is related to the fire. 

There had been concerns about where water pumped onto the fire was going afterwards and its toxicity.

"Safety warning - reports of hazardous substances released into bay," the website says.

It is the only "hazard alert" currently in place in Auckland. It comes ahead of the long Labour weekend.

SafeSwim will hold a press conference at 2:30pm.

The exclamation mark shows where St Marys Bay is.
The exclamation mark shows where St Marys Bay is. Photo credit: Auckland Council.

1:17pm - NIWA has released a time-lapse of the fire's first 44 hours beginning from 1:50pm on Tuesday and ending at 9:50am on Thursday.

12:55pm - Fletcher Building says it will take months to assess the scale of the damage and work out how long the convention centre will be delayed.

CEO Ross Taylor has vowed the building will eventually be completed.

"We are all devastated to see the project we have worked so hard on impacted this way and while our timeline will change, our resolve will not - and together with SkyCity we remain committed to delivering a world-class convention centre."

12:15pm - The smoke coming from the centre would be putting a high amount of carbon dioxide into the air. However, it's difficult to estimate how much.

NIWA's atmospheric scientists told Newshub that if a measurement system was in place before the fire then a direct measurement could be conducted. But, considering the multiple sources of CO2 in the area  - like buildings and cars - it would be difficult to determine otherwise. 

"The best estimate would likely come from knowing the amount of combustible material (wood and plastic) in the building and proportion that has burnt to calculate the emitted CO2.  There is likely a mix of different age carbon and some of it in plastics derived from fossil sources."

12:10pm - Earlier on Thursday, US Ambassador to NZ Scott Brown tweeted that he had been out for a run in Auckland and came across the smouldering SkyCity centre.

11:48am - SkyCity has confirmed the fire is now officially under control. Fire and Emergency New Zealand teams will remain on site until the fire is fully out and it will then be handed back to Fletcher Construction.

The SkyCity precinct will begin reopening in phases from later on Thursday, with normal business operations expected to resume on Friday. The SkyCity corporate offices will reopen on Tuesday.

It also confirmed all cars parked on the flooded basement level, B4, belong to SkyCity employees.

11:33am - SkyCity estimates fewer than 100 vehicles parked in the basement have been damaged by water.

It said employees will be compensated for damage. Contractors, who also park in the basement, were not mentioned.

11:19am - New Zealand Police Inspector Scott Gemmell says the cordons that have been in place since Tuesday are expected to stay in place for another 24 hours "at least".

10:52am - FENZ says the fire is still smouldering and the wind is causing flare-ups.

"Firefighters are being rotated and fatigues levels are being closely monitored.

"Several layers of the basement are flooded. We are working with Auckland Port and Fletcher Construction to remove the water in the basement and with the Auckland Council about where to dispose of it."

10:50am - Claims from the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union that having more aerial appliances at the fire quicker would have meant the blaze was contained more easily are being disputed by FENZ.

Ron Devlin, Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) regional manager, told Newshub that extra aerial appliances arriving earlier wouldn't have changed how the fire was fought.

"This is a complicated fire to fight. In this instance, the heavy aerial appliances arriving earlier, or additional heavy aerial appliances, would not have made any difference to the outcome or the approach taken," he said.

10:30am - Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ says people with a respiratory condition should avoid the Auckland CBD due to the smoke from the SkyCity blaze.

"Smoke is a major trigger for asthma, as it is effectively tiny particles entering the throat and lungs," says Teresa Demetriou, the foundation's head of education and research.

"This can severely irritate those with respiratory illnesses like asthma, bronchitis, or COPD, who could experience severe worsening of their conditions if they spend too much time in these conditions."

"Kiwis usually want to tough it out and not make a fuss, but I have worked as a respiratory nurse for many years and seen first-hand the damage that can be done to the lungs.

"If you suffer from asthma, or any respiratory illness, make sure you're not exposing yourself to these conditions unless absolutely necessary. It is not worth the risk."

10:20am - St John says over the course of the last twelve hours four people have been treated for sickness or injuries, two of them taken to hospital.

10:07am - Fire and Emergency New Zealand has confirmed the basement of the building is filled with water, covering some of the cars that were parked there when the fire erupted.

The water is being pumped out of the basement now.

10am - Fire and Emergency New Zealand is providing an update on the fire. You can watch a livestream here.

9:50am - The first image of the interior of the International Convention Centre has appeared. A photo provided to Newshub shows a muddy, derelict industrial site.

9:30am - ASB's CBD branches, Chorus's headquarters, the District Court and the Auckland central library are all closed. More closures could be announced later this morning.

9:15am - People who left their cars inside the SkyCity carpark will now be able to collect them, after it was closed for almost two days.

SkyCity says anyone who needs their car back should head to the entrance on Albert St. The security ream is escorting people to their vehicles individually.

9:00am - Another person has been treated for minor injuries and taken to hospital. St John did not confirm if it was a firefighter.

Six people were treated at the fire for injuries ranging from minor to moderate between 1:45pm and 5pm on Wednesday. 

8:44am - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said on Twitter he has been informed the fire is out.

Civil Defence was unable to confirm the fire is out. Newshub has contacted Fire and Emergency New Zealand for comment. 

8:26am - Auckland Mayor Phil Goff told The Breeze some nearby businesses forced to close due to the fire will have to wear the cost.

"I think the only provision under the law is that if you're within the cordon they may be eligible, through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, for some compensation but by and large the rest of us simply have to absorb those costs."

Meanwhile, TVNZ has confirmed it will not be able to use its Victoria St studio at all on Thursday.

8:15am - The roof has partially caved in and most of the wood, ply and straw has burned away. The steel structure remains.

A photo posted to Twitter by Mayor Phil Goff shows most of the bare steel remaining, with a large hole at the north end of the building.

8:04am - The Professional Firefighters' Union says toxic smoke from the fire has leached through firefighter's uniforms.

Campbell says the breathing equipment being used is not enough.

"We're hoping to get our presumptive legislation recognised by ACC so that if a firefighter does contract cancer it's deemed to be a workplace injury as part of their job."

A big fire.
The fire overnight. Photo credit: Supplied/Alex Hague

7:39am - New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union local secretary Martin Campbell says efforts to fight the fire have been impacted by under-resourcing.

Only one of three aerial appliances was available on Tuesday and a second had to drive up from Hamilton.

"Certainly if we had three heavy aerial appliances immediately available to respond we could have thrown a lot more water at that fire in a lot shorter time. We could have hopefully contained the fire and stopped it spreading."

Campbell also said once the fire is out there will be a lot of work to get the water used to fight the blaze out of the building.

"Each one of our aerial appliances can throw about 200 litres per second of water as long as we've got the water available to use. We certainly have had a lot of water to use on this and it has been flowing for a good day and a half, almost two days now.

"So there's thousands of litres of water in the basement that I assume will need to be pumped out at some stage."

7:13am - Fire and Emergency New Zealand says the fire reduced in size significantly overnight and crews are expected to move into "mop up" operations on Thursday.

7:05am - A crane has been brought in to help fight the fire. It will suspend firefighters above the roof so they can manually dig out any hot spots.

6:50am - The roof has still not collapsed, despite firefighters planning to "sacrifice" it and allow it to fall in so they can safely access the building.

6:20am - The fire comes as the building is at its most vulnerable. Victoria Unversity building science programme director Geoff Thomas told Newshub construction is a risky time.

"The fire alarm systems often aren't operable, so things like the sprinklers aren't connected and the fire alarm system isn't activated or not even there."

A man on the ground wearing firefighter clothes.
A firefighter resting on the ground. Photo credit: Newshub.

6am - TVNZ's Breakfast is still broadcasting from an emergency studio instead of its building, which is next door to the on-fire convention centre.

5:41am - The fight against the fire has entered its third day. Large flames have picked up, and can be seen on live video of the blaze.

Two people were treated at the scene for minor injuries last night. There is not yet any word on whether TVNZ staff have been allowed back into their building. The nearby SkyCity precinct remains closed.