Venue fire casts pall over New Zealand's APEC plans

Wellington (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.

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 NZ$700 million ($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 Wednesday that it appeared the blaze broke out on the roof of the seven-storey building when a worker was using a blowtorch.

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.

Firefighters said they were allowing the blaze on the roof to burn itself out while concentrating on stopping the fire spreading to other areas of the building.

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