A fatal house fire began with an explosion "like an earthquake" and rained debris on a house 10 doors away.
Neighbours tried desperately to save an elderly man trapped inside the flat, in the Lower Hutt suburb of Wainuiomata, but were forced back by the intense heat.
When firefighters got into the flat in Burden Ave, they found the man dead.
Neighbour Tane Dread raced across the road after hearing and feeling the explosion in the early hours of yesterday.
With flames leaping 5 metres or more into the air, he tried to rescue the man he only vaguely knew. "I couldn't even get near it. It was too intense from the heat."
He dragged other neighbours from their homes, then later went home and cried. "I haven't cried in years," he said.
He described the dead man as a "beautiful" person, who kept to himself.
Dread's niece, Judy Whioke, had no doubt her uncle was a hero. "He was amazing. He thought so fast," she said.
She saw him kick the elderly man's door down. "For him to think he could go in there was crazy."
A neighbour, whose house backs on to the scene of the fire, said the explosion caused shards of glass to lodge in the rubber surrounds of his windows.
Munny Groenewegen, 79, was in bed when she heard a "big explosion" and got her 91-year-old husband out of bed.
She saw the neighbouring flat on fire and called emergency services. "It was one big fireball. It was enormous, the flames. We were really worried it would jump to our house."
The dead man was in his 70s, but police said it could take several days to confirm his identity.
Groenewegen described him as a "friendly" man, with whom she sometimes played the organ.
Peter Fellows, who lives across the road, said the man was "really nice".
He had been inside the house to do odd jobs for the man, and said it was full of clutter.
Other neighbours suggested there were gas bottles inside the house, which could have added to the inferno. The Fire Service would not comment, saying fire safety officers and police would investigate the cause of the fire.
- The Dominion Post
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