Auckland residents evacuated after school fire spreads asbestos still can't return home

Some Auckland residents evacuated a month ago after a large school fire spread asbestos onto their properties still don't know when they can go back home.

They've already spent Christmas and New Years away and are frustrated by what they call contradicting advice from health and education officials.

When Ponsonby Intermediate caught fire on December 8, neighbours stood outside their homes and watched in shock.

"Pretty much anyone from the area was outside watching these flames shoot 30 metres up," local Roanne Jacobson says.

But Jacobson says locals weren't told there was asbestos in the air till it was too late.

"It took until 12:30pm the next day for the Ministry of Education to knock on our door," she says.

Twelve homes were cordoned off and residents forced to find emergency housing two weeks before Christmas. Some of their decorations are still in place.

Jacobson says residents were given conflicting advice. First they were told by the Ministry of Education to urgently evacuate, then a day later a letter from the Auckland Council arrived saying the risk of asbestos contamination was low.

"The information from Council was pretty bad. It was late and it was a letter drop when we'd already been evacuated from the property," she says.

Jacobson says the clean-up effort should have been organised by the Ministry of Education and the Council. Instead residents had to claim their own insurance to pay for the asbestos clean-up.

In a joint statement authorities say the asbestos cleanup of Ponsonby Intermediate is nearly complete and that "Auckland Council and Auckland Regional Public Health Officers are continuing to support residents who have any questions or concerns".

But Jacobson disputes that.

"The Ministry of Education, the Auckland Health Board - no one's talked to us," she says.

Some of her neighbours have been allowed to move back home. But because she left her windows open immediately after the fire hers was contaminated before she was alerted to the asbestos in the school - which means her family must stay away.