A fire that killed at least six people in a Wellington hostel was arson, police in New Zealand said as a murder investigation was opened.
No arrests have been made but officers have a list of people they want to speak to and hope to quickly identify a suspect, police inspector Dion Bennett said.
He refused to say if an accelerant or other evidence of arson has been found.
But there was a couch fire at the Loafers Lodge hostel about two hours before Tuesday’s deadly blaze, police said.
The smaller fire was not reported to emergency services at the time, the force added.
There are searches still to be done in some unstable parts of the four-storey hostel building, Mr Bennett said, and his “gut feeling” is the death toll may rise.
The murder investigation represents a U-turn by police, who initially said they did not believe the fire was deliberate.
Officers have accounted for 92 people who were in the hostel and have a list of fewer than 20 who remain unaccounted for, Mr Bennett said.
Officers earlier said they expected the final death toll to be fewer than 10.
Liam Hockings, a journalist, is one of the hostel’s missing residents, news outlet RNZ reported.
Some people were forced to flee in their pyjamas as flames tore through the hostel.
Others dived from windows or were saved by firefighters from the roof.
Loafers Lodge offered 92 basic, affordable rooms with shared lounges, kitchens and laundry facilities to people of a wide range of ages.
Some were placed there by government agencies and considered vulnerable because they had little in the way of resources or support networks.
The hostel had no sprinklers, emergency officials said.
Under the nation’s building codes, sprinklers are not required in older buildings that would need to be retrofitted, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.
“I have asked the minister for housing to look particularly at issues around building regulations to see whether there’s anything more that we should be doing right at this point,” Mr Hipkins told reporters on Wednesday.