Two 13-year-olds have handed themselves into police after a fire tore through a building in Sydney’s CBD.
The blaze burned through the seven-storey heritage-listed building on the corner of Randle St and Elizabeth Street in Surry Hills, near Central Station on Thursday afternoon.
Phu Tang, a locksmith who works next door to the unoccupied building, claimed he saw a group of high school students running from the site as it went up in flames.
NSW Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Paul Dunstan confirmed on Friday the two 13-year-olds had been inside the building at the time.
They have spoken with police after turning up separately at Paddington and Kings Cross police stations on Thursday night and are assisting with inquiries.
Charges have not been laid and the arson squad are leading the investigation.
Officers are also wanting to speak to three or four more children of a similar age who were also at the building at the time the fire ignited.
‘We ask them to come forward with their parents and put their side of the story forward,’ Mr Dunstan told reporters.
Firefighters battled the blaze on the corner of Randle St and Elizabeth St in Surry Hills on Thursday afternoon
A ute parked nearby the building that burst into flames was also destroyed in the blaze
Mr Dunstan also confirmed up to 15 people were sleeping rough in the building the night before the fire took hold, with 13 of those accounted for.
Police are working with government agencies to try and locate the other two people.
More than 100 firefighters worked to get the blaze under control at the 111-year-old former hat factory, which had been left derelict and unoccupied, and was set to be redeveloped into a $40million hotel.
A building behind the one destroyed by the fire has also been evacuated, while the unit block next door has had the power cut off and residents are unable to enter.
Fire and Rescue NSW Acting Commissioner Jeremy Fewtrell said there are still pockets of the building on fire which are difficult to extinguish due to the debris.
A ute parked nearby was also burnt to a crisp.
‘This was a once-in-a-decade fire,’ he said.
The building caught alight in Sydney’s CBD, sending thick plumes of smoke billowing into the sky
Phu Tang, a locksmith who works next door to the building, claimed he saw a group of students running from the site as it was engulfed in flames
The Surry Hills building is seen on Friday morning after the fire tore through it
Mr Tang, who’d stepped out to get some takeaway pizza, earlier said the group of children yelled out to their friend who was on the first floor to get out before they all fled.
‘I was walking back to my workshop and I encountered young high school children running out from one of the doors of that building,’ he told Sunrise.
‘I could hear shattered glass hitting the footpath and I looked up and the building was already on fire.
‘The kids were running past me. They screamed upwards talking to another kid inside the building, asking why he was still inside.’
The building burst into flames about 4pm and much of it, including the roof, had collapsed by 6pm. Chunks of debris from the roof and walls fell onto the street below, while thousands of horrified commuters and workers watched on.
The fire caused a ‘tornado of smoke’ and the heat could be felt even a block away, witnesses said.
Firefighters worked through the night to extinguish the blaze and are using a drone to monitor hot spots for potential reignition.
There are now concerns building walls could still collapse without warning.
‘There are two walls that are in a precarious position,’ Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Adam Dewberry told the Today Show on Friday.
The fire ripped through the building on Thursday afternoon and it wasn’t long before the roof collapsed
‘We are talking about tonnes and tonnes of bricks that could come down and become projectiles.
‘That is why we have such a tight exclusion zone, not allowing anyone in including firefighters until we get the engineers in.’
The only reported injury from the fire was a minor burn suffered by a firefighter.
The cause of the blaze is unknown.
Emergency workers watched on as part of the building collapsed (pictured)
Once the area is safe, residents and businesses are expected to be allowed to return to their premises and the major thoroughfare of Elizabeth Street will be reopened.
Among those locked out overnight was a bride getting married on Friday.
Firefighters were able to enter her apartment and collect her wedding dress during a run for essentials.
How the building was slated to become a fancy hotel
By Madeleine Achenza for NCA Newswire
The heritage-listed building that went up in a roaring blaze in Sydney was slated to be the location of a fancy hotel.
More than 100 firefighters worked to contain the fire, which gutted the seven-storey building on Randle Street near Central Station, after it broke out just after 4pm on Thursday.
Firefighters worked all night to extinguish the blaze, graded as the most severe category of fire, as it sent smoke churning into the sky and crumbled the brick facade.
The heritage-listed building that went up in a roaring blaze in Sydney was slated to be the location of a fancy hotel
Local Surry Hills architecture firm Tonkin Zulaikha Greer designed the project which was submitted for development approval in 2019.
Tim Greer, the architect behind the design, told The Daily Telegraph that ‘construction was imminent’ before the fire ripped through the building on Thursday.
‘I’m still processing what happened, as we designed a beautiful hotel for this site, and were very much looking forward to seeing it built,’ he said. ‘Looks like that won’t happen.’
Tim Greer, the architect behind the design told The Daily Telegraph that ‘construction was imminent’ before the fire ripped through the building on Thursday
He said the project had progressed to the stage of seeking out a building contract.
The reinvigoration of the former hat factory was due to cost the owners, Hanave Pty Limited, about $40m to redevelop.
‘The New Hotel in Randle Street transforms the handsome Henderson Hat manufacturing warehouse building into a vibrant hotel,’ the architecture firm’s website says of the project.
‘Guests are protected by means of room orientation, window location, furniture layout, and – at the most exposed face of the building – an impressive cladded screen.’
The reinvigoration of the former hat factory was due to cost the owners, Hanave Pty Limited, about $40m to redevelop