Residents have described a loud fight at an inner north complex shortly before a car park and a number of vehicles under the units were burnt out, one of a series of overnight fires now under police investigation.
Firefighters were called to a number of separate fires overnight lit in garbage bins and cars in Civic, Turner, Reid, and Braddon. Police are investigating whether the incidents are linked.
The most serious was a fire at an underground car park at Condamine Court in Turner. An entire block of the complex was evacuated, the building damaged, and at least 14 cars and a boat burned, however no serious injuries were reported.
A Community Services Directorate spokesman said 60 to 70 people were forced from their homes by the fire, and have not been able to return since. About 20 people were placed in emergency accommodation at a hotel or motel, while the rest were able to stay with family and friends.
One resident, Shane McCauley, who lives in a neighbouring block, said as of 8am police hadn’t allowed him in to the car park to check on his car.
“I want to have a look because I’ve got work tomorrow and Sunday and I need the car, so I need to find out what’s going on with it,” he said.
“I think my car’s going to be damaged, because we’ve had flames come out there, and that’s just where my car’s parked. So I think my car’s going to be done.”
Mr McCauley said he woke to noises of what he thought was a fight, and said the window in the front door of his unit was smashed at the same time.
“I heard some noises so I got up at 1.30 in the morning. And all of a sudden there was screaming and people having a go at each other – I think there must have been a fight. Then I looked out the window and somebody was yelling out ‘fire, fire fire’,” he said. Police said emergency services were called to the fire about 1.40am.
“This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. My car’s been broken into twice down there.”
Despite having lived in the complex for about six years, Mr McCauley said he’d become fearful and would consider asking ACT Housing if he could be moved.
Another resident, Sue Hazel, said the incidents had become progressively worse over the past six years as more young tenants moved in, but said troublemakers had “really outdone themselves now”.
“I have to say, this is the worst ever,” Ms Hazel said.
“I’m really not happy. It’s awful because you’re going through this sort of rubbish every few nights. It’s not pleasant. I feel for all those ones there [in the burnt block], because…it’s not pretty.
“Now, the horrible thing is, we’re getting quite frightened, because we haven’t had it to this [extent] before. So the moment the sun goes down, you lock yourself in.”
Ms Hazel also described hearing a large fight in the courtyard before the fire, and said people had been throwing and “smashing” things against the walls of the complex.
Police said there were no reports of a disturbance linked with the fire.
Shortly after the Turner fire, fire fighters were called to Allambee Street, Reid, where two cars were found alight.
Prime television's Samuel Gordon-Stewart was on his was home from work when he decided to follow a fire truck to see what was happening, and ended up at his home, Jerilderie Court.
“The smoke was enough to make me certainly step back. They were a bit concerned about whether the smoke was going to be toxic," he said.
Residents of neighbouring flats were evacuated but allowed to return a short time later.
Mr Gordon-Stewart said the car that was alight had been sitting in the same spot at the complex for a long time - possibly up to 12 months - and didn't have any number plates. He said he wasn't surprised that it was set on fire, and that there had been car windows smashed in the area recently, and a fire in the complex's bins a night or two before.
But he said generally the area was reasonably quiet, and had improved over the past few years.
Earlier in the evening there had been a spate of car and rubbish fires at other nearby locations, including in Braddon and Reid.
Sergeant Jim Edwards from the City Police Station said forensic officers were collecting evidence, but could not say whether there was a connection between the incidents.
“ACT Policing at the moment are unable to confirm that the fires are linked, however this is certainly a line of inquiry we’re looking into,” he said.
“We’ll certainly look at being proactive in relation to those types of areas.”
He said residents at the Turner fire in particular were “shocked and concerned”, but he applauded emergency services for safely evacuating the building.
“There is extensive damage to the amenities of the building and the underground car park, and at this stage the residents are unable to return to the apartments and I’m unable to say how long that will be until they return,” he said.
“It was a dangerous situation with dense smoke, and it was just fortunate that we haven’t received any injuries in relation to the matter.”
He said an estimate of the damage bill would be compiled by the Emergency Services Agency.
Police have asked anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or via www.act.crimestoppers.com.au.