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Sydney fire rages in building
Photograph: Mel Woodley The fire as seen from the Time Out office at 4.30pm

BREAKING: Everything we know about the catastrophic Sydney fire

Teens have turned themselves in, two people unaccounted for and strong winds threaten to bring the building down

Maya Skidmore
Written by
Maya Skidmore

On Thursday afternoon, Sydneysiders and people all over the world watched in horror as a gigantic ‘level ten’ fire blazed in the heart of the city, creating apocalyptic scenes in the heart of Sydney's CBD.

Now, police have confirmed that two teenagers turned themselves in overnight over the incident, with them aware of a further "three or four" young people present at the scene of the fire in what was believed to have been an empty and abandoned building. 

With the flames roaring just metres from the Time Out Sydney office, we were right on the scene as the building fire rapidly escalated yesterday afternoon, triggering mass evacuations and road closures across the CBD. The inferno was visible from kilometres away, and the flames climbed to staggering heights in the seven storey heritage building, causing brick walls to dramatically collapse and huge chunks of debris to crash down on Randle Street below. 

Time Out Sydney writer Avril Treasure said that she had “never seen anything like it”.  

"We smelled smoke, and then saw thick black smoke right outside our window and soon our boss told us to pack up and leave. We came downstairs and looked up to see a nearby building engulfed in roaring flames. I've never seen anything like it, and it was pretty scary. So glad no one was hurt, and thank god for the firefighters who did an incredible job of containing the flames."

Fire blazes in a office building
Avril TreasureThe fire at 4pm near the Time Out office

Now, the morning after, pockets of fire are reportedly still smouldering in the building, and evacuated residents are yet to be able to return to their homes due to concerns about their building’s post-fire structural integrity. 

Over 100 firefighters worked into the night to subdue the blaze, with them successfully managing to prevent the fire from spreading to the residential apartment buildings that shared neighbouring walls. A vehicle burst into flames at the time of the fire, and windows across the street fell out as result of radiant heat damage.

Police have also said that 15 people were sleeping rough in the building the night before the fire. 13 of these people have been located, but detectives are "furiously" searching for two others who are yet to be accounted for. 

Thankfully, all residents on the scene were safely evacuated, with the only reported injury so far being one firefighter who sustained minor burns. 

The Sydney Morning Herald however reported a witness statement from city worker Phu Tang, who reported seeing a number of high school students fleeing as smoke started to pour out of the windows. Tang has said that the students were “screaming” up to another child who was “still in the building”. This claim is unconfirmed, with authorities saying that they would investigate anyone unaccounted for.

Fire blazes in a office building
Photograph: Mel WoodleyThe fire as seen from the Time Out office

However, in breaking news, two teenagers have handed themselves in over night and are currently assisting police with their investigation, with NSW police confirming that three to four other young people were also on the scene, and encouraging them to also come forward. 

Fire and Rescue NSW are waiting for the scene to become safe before they can enter the building, with conditions currently too hazardous to be able to investigate the cause of the fire that tore through the century-old former hat factory. 

The front and back walls of the Randle Street building dramatically fell down in the blaze, with authorities concerned that strong winds could bring the remaining ruined walls down without warning. With 40 kilometre winds forecast for Sydney on Friday, this is a very real risk. 

Fire blazes in a office building
Alice EllisThe fire as seen from Central Station

As seen in the Sydney Morning Herald, Fire and Rescue NSW superintendent Adam Dewberry has said that this is a serious concern. 

“A strong wind could bring them down, if it gets in the right direction … the corners are holding it up at the moment, but there’s every chance it could come down without notice.”

“When those bricks hit the ground, they ricochet off and they become heavy, you know, a brick projectile … they’re extremely dangerous.” 

Currently, Chalmers Street and Randle Street are closed between Cleveland and Elizabeth. The southbound side of Elizabeth Street is also closed between Foveaux and Devonshire Street, while a few nearby alleyways are also cordoned off. Developments are expected to emerge as the day progresses. 

The empty building at 11 Randle Street was slated for a $40 million boutique hotel redevelopment.

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