Venue fire casts pall over New Zealand's 2021 APEC plans

No casualties reported in the incident, which damaged the US$450 million project, but officials say event will go on.

    Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said the centre is 'extraordinarily unlikely' to host APEC leaders in November 2021 [Greg Bowker/AFP]
    Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said the centre is 'extraordinarily unlikely' to host APEC leaders in November 2021 [Greg Bowker/AFP]

    A massive fire at the Auckland venue being built to host the 2021 APEC forum raged for a second day on Wednesday, as New Zealand officials insisted the event would go ahead.

    The blaze broke out at the SkyCity convention centre construction site on Tuesday afternoon and was still blanketing the city with smoke a day later, despite the efforts of more than 100 firefighters.

    There were no reported injuries but the plumes of acrid smoke prompted Auckland Civil Defence to warn residents to stay indoors if possible, keeping doors and windows closed.

    Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters conceded the centre was "extraordinarily unlikely" to host leaders from the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum nations in November 2021 as scheduled.

    But he said New Zealand's largest city would still hold the annual summit, which is being staged in the Chilean capital Santiago this year.

    "We won't lose APEC. We are a big enough country to run it without the convention centre," Peters told the New Zealand Herald.

    "Auckland has got some alternatives. I don't want to jump in to say what they are, although some of them will be obvious as venues ... which are capable of the security and the least amount of interruption."

    When APEC was held in Papua New Guinea last year, cruise liners were used to accommodate delegates due to a shortage of hotel rooms in Port Moresby.

    The 700 million New Zealand dollars (US$450 million) centre, being built next to the distinctive SkyCity tower and casino complex, was New Zealand's largest construction site.

    Construction firm Fletcher Building confirmed on Wednesday that it appeared the blaze broke out on the roof of the seven-storey building when a worker was using a blowtorch.

    Officials say a mixture of bitumen, straw and plywood in the roof cavity of the structure was continuing to burn and firefighters were unable to properly access the area. They plan to let the fire burn itself out later on Wednesday.

    Meanwhile, many office blocks, hotels and public buildings in the city centre were closed due to fumes from the fire, with workers advised to avoid the area.

    SOURCE: News agencies