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New Zealand police file 5 murder charges against man accused of starting deadly hostel fire

Firefighters work near a hostel in central Wellington, New Zealand, on May 16, 2023. (Ben McKay / AAP Image via AP) Firefighters work near a hostel in central Wellington, New Zealand, on May 16, 2023. (Ben McKay / AAP Image via AP)
WELLINGTON, New Zealand -

New Zealand police on Thursday filed five murder charges against the man they say lit a deadly fire at a Wellington hostel two weeks ago.

Police had earlier filed arson charges against the 48-year-old man, accusing him of setting fire to a couch and to the hostel itself. He has remained in jail since his arrest two days after the fire.

More than 100 people were staying at the four-storey Loafers Lodge hostel when the fire tore through the building soon after midnight on May 16.

Some people fled in their pajamas, while others were rescued by firefighters from the roof or jumped from windows.

The fire caused parts of the roof and a floor to collapse in a pile of debris.

Emergency officials said the building had no fire sprinklers, which are not required in many older buildings. New Zealand lawmakers say they are reviewing building regulations to see if they need changing.

Among the five men who died in the fire was 67-year-old Mike Wahrlich, a street performer who was widely known in Wellington as Mike the Juggler.

A judge has granted the defendant temporary name suppression, a routine practice in the New Zealand legal system. He has yet to enter a plea on the arson charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. If found guilty on the murder charges, the man would face life imprisonment.

During his first court appearance May 19, the man tried to fire his lawyer, who later confirmed that the man remained his client.

Inspector Dion Bennett said police finished their examination of the burned-out hostel on Thursday and were handing the scene back to fire authorities.

"Police would like to acknowledge the residents of Wellington who have been affected by this tragedy, and we hope that today's upgraded charges will be welcomed," Bennett said in a statement. Top Stories

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