Satellite images: billionaire fireworks blaze almost destroyed his own buildings

by Peter Newport - Jan 01, 2023

Images of the fire damage from an elite Queenstown fireworks party that went out of control last night suggest that Empire State building owner Tony Malkin may have come close to burning down his own property as well as alienating hundreds of neighbours.

The out of control fireworks blaze last night can be seen burning on three different fronts

Crux enquiries also reveal that Mr Malkin, the owner of the Empire State building with a reported net worth of over $US 10 billion, obtained New Zealand Overseas Investment Office approval to buy the land in 2008 on the condition that Otago Polytechnic students could use the property as a “classroom” to learn about sustainable building practices.

Here is an extract from the formal OIO approval conditions:

"Rationale for the Investment:  Case Number 200820028 155 Littles Road, Queenstown.

"The property will be made available as a physical classroom for educating Otago Polytechnic students, and other New Zealand organisations in the field of design, construction and environmental sustainability, in the design, installation and maintenance of an environmentally sustainable home.

"The proposed overseas investment will, or is likely to, benefit New Zealand (or any part of it or group of New Zealanders) having regard to the following benefits:

Overseas Investment Act 2005:
s17(2)(a)(i) - New job opportunities.
s17(2)(a)(ii) - Introduction of new technology or business skills.

"Overseas Investment Regulations 2005:
r28(a) - Consequential benefits.
r28(f) - Advancing Government policy."

However a visit to the property today found industrial level security features and no signs of the property being used for NZ educational purposes.

The main entrance to 155 Littles Road today - heavy security, but no sign of "classrooms" or educational facilities.

A comparison of satellite images and terrestrial images today of the fireworks damage suggest that Mr Malkin came perilously close to burning down his own buildings and potentially injuring his own guests.

Today's Crux images show the fireworks blaze was in close proximity to major buildings

The one hectare fire was in the centre of, and only metres way from, the two main buildings of the $20 million property

The heavily burnt hectare of land is right next to one large building complex and only 50 metres from a second large building.

Fire and Emergency NZ issued a statement to Crux a short time ago saying that a fire investigator is at the scene today and that FENZ themselves don’t issue permits for fireworks displays.

“Fire and Emergency has no legal jurisdiction to issue permits for public pyrotechnic displays. Fire permits are not required because such displays fall outside our legislation. Worksafe issues certificates of compliance for outdoors pyrotechnic (fireworks) displays and part of that process enables Fire and Emergency to provide advice on the safety plan for the event.:

“In this case, our staff reviewed the safety plan for the event and agreed to it. The Dalefield area was not in a restricted fire season on New Year’s Eve as the fire indices did not meet the threshold for imposing restrictions.”

Source: Steve Turek, FENZ National Manager Readiness and Recovery.

Crux obtained a copy of the Worksafe Compliance Certificate issued to the fireworks display company in Christchurch on December 14 but in the name of Mr Malkin’s local event organiser Donna Stewart-Freemantle.

Earlier today Ms Stewart-Freemantle declined to give Crux details of any apology or compensation offer to neighbours, instead simply thanking the police and fire services for their work in fighting the fire and evacuating nearby properties. 

Local residents, who organised a 600 strong petition calling for the fireworks events to be cancelled, are now planning to submit compensation claims to Mr Malkin’s company as well as calling on QLDC to change local bylaws in order to prevent similar events in the future.

Read our original exclusive story here.

Read more of today's coverage here and here.


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