The large fire that engulfed a historic 110-year-old building in Sydney’s CBD is thought to have been deliberately lit, as NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said the arson* squad was investigating.
Two 13-year-olds voluntarily* presented to police on Friday and more youths are being urged to come forward as police continue investigating the cause of blaze opposite iconic Central Station.
Abandoned building exploration has become a popular but illegal trend among teenagers, with hundreds of videos on social media showing young people trespassing in empty buildings, warehouses and other sites.
In one TikTok video, a teenager can be seen hanging off the edge of a high beam, his legs dangling dangerously off the edge. Wishing to remain anonymous, he said the destroyed building was filled with “old office stuff’ and was otherwise “basically empty.”
“It got popular off TikTok,” he said.
Assistant Commissioner Paul Dunstan said police were aware “of a further three or four young people who were present during the fire”.
“We ask them to come forward with their parents and put their side of the story forward,” he said.
The fire erupted on Thursday afternoon, with flames and smoke visible across the city in one of the biggest fires Sydney has seen in years.
In the days since Thursday’s blaze, video has emerged of teens exploring the inside of the now-destroyed building just days before it was engulfed by flames.
Videos posted on social media show the building was a popular haunt for teenagers, who regularly explored the derelict* site.
“We are considering it suspicious based on the evidence available,” Commissioner Webb said.
NSW Fire and Rescue Superintendent Adam Dewberry said the remaining walls could fall.
“A strong wind could definitely bring them down,” he said. “There’s a risk of it falling without notice, which is why we have a large exclusion zone*. If those walls collapse, they could hit nearby apartments, and when bricks hit the ground, they become dangerous projectiles*. They can ricochet* off the ground and cause harm, even fatalities*.”
Firefighters were using drones to assess the site and guide emergency operations.
The fire originated on the third floor of the abandoned building but the entire six-storey structure was soon engulfed* in flames. Witnesses heard explosions coming from inside the burning building as black smoke billowed into the sky.
At one stage more than 30 fire trucks and 120 firefighters were on the scene battling the raging inferno. Firefighters were forced to keep their distance as a smaller building alongside the blaze also went up in flames, with multiple walls and sections of roofing breaking apart and falling to the street below in waves of burning hot debris.
Embers travelled across the street to the buildings opposite, causing spot fires on the rooftop gardens of nearby apartments.
Firefighters managed to extinguish a fire in a parked ute, but the vehicle was later crushed by falling debris.
The destroyed building has a current land value of $9.5 million. The property is subject to heritage restrictions* and the former millinery* was due to undergo a $40 million restoration and redevelopment* into an up-market hotel.
At the time of writing, neither teen had been charged but they were assisting police with their inquiries.
- arson: the act of intentionally setting fire to a building or property
- exclusion zone: an area that is restricted and people are not allowed to enter
- projectiles: objects that are thrown or propelled through the air
- ricochet: when an object strikes a surface and deflects or bounces off in a different direction
- fatalities: deaths resulting from an accident, disaster, or event
- forecast: a prediction or estimation of future weather conditions
- gusts: sudden, strong bursts of wind
- engulfed: completely surrounded or covered by something, usually flames or smoke
- inferno: a large, intense fire that spreads quickly and is difficult to control
- embers: small pieces of burning material or wood that remain after a fire
- spot fires: small fires that start as a result of embers or sparks from a larger fire
- ferocity: the quality of being fierce, intense, or violent
- heritage restrictions: rules or regulations that protect and preserve buildings or sites of historical or cultural significance
- millinery: the designing, making, and selling women’s hats
- restoration: the process of repairing or renovating a building to bring it back to its original condition
- redevelopment: the act of improving or transforming a property or area for a new purpose
- voluntarily: doing something willingly or without being forced
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- What is the concern raised by the fire chief regarding the heavy winds?
- On what level of the building did the fire start?
- What was the building previously used for?
- What are some of the dangers associated with the collapse of the remaining walls of the historic building?
- Who presented themselves voluntarily to the police?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Considering the impact
The negative impacts of this blaze are far-reaching, on individuals, organisations and the community. Discuss this with a partner and together brainstorm a list of who has been impacted and how.
Here is one example to get you started:
Residents of nearby apartments have had rooftop gardens and property damaged by spot fires and have had to evacuate their homes for an extended period of time due to the safety exclusion zone.
Once you have exhausted all ideas, choose one impacted group to think more deeply about. How do you think those people are feeling about this incident? Is it fair that this has happened to them?
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Personal and Social Capability; Civics and Citizenship; Ethical Understanding
Emergency services personnel were on hand to deal with this dangerous event, as they are each and every day. Write a letter to a local branch of the emergency services, thanking them for the work they do in protecting our community.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Civics and Citizenship
A headline on an article – or a title on your text – should capture the attention of the audience, telling them to read this now. So choosing the perfect words for a headline or title is very important.
Create three new headlines for the events that took place in this article. Remember, what you write and how you write it will set the pace for the whole text, so make sure it matches.
Read out your headlines to a partner and discuss what the article will be about based on the headline you created. Discuss the tone and mood you set in just your few, short words. Does it do the article justice? Will it capture the audience’s attention the way you hoped? Would you want to read more?
Consider how a headline or title is similar to using short, sharp sentences throughout your text. They can be just as important as complex ones. Go through the last text you wrote and highlight any short, sharp sentences that capture the audience.