A fatal house fire began with an explosion ''like an earthquake'' and rained debris on a house ten doors down.
When fire fighters got in to the flat in Burden Ave in the Lower Hutt suburb in the early hours of today an elderly man was found dead inside, despite heroic efforts of neighbours to save him.
Tane Dread is reluctant to be called a hero, saying efforts to save the elderly man were a community effort. ''It's not about me.''
With flames leaping high in the air, he tried to enter the house 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 this morning.
Dread's niece Judy Whioke has no doubt her uncle was a hero.
As flames leapt 5m or more in the air, her uncle sped across the road to help as soon as he heard the explosion which - across the road - felt ''like an earthquake''.''He was amazing. He thought so fast.
''I have never seem him fly out of the house so fast.''
She saw Dread 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 themselves in the rubber surrounds of his windows.
Police believed the elderly man was the sole occupant of the flat.The flat suffered ''extensive damage'', police said.
Neighbour Munny Groenewegen, 79, was in bed with her husband when she heard a ''big explosion'' about 2am 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 fire ball. It was enormous, the flames. We were really worried it would jump to our house.''
She understood the man who died was in his 70s.
He was a ''friendly'' man who she sometimes played the organ with.Just yesterday she saw him catching the bus to Lower Hutt.
After calling 111, neighbours had to help the elderly couple out of their house.
Fire communications shift manager Jan Wills said seven fire crews battled the blaze.
Fire safety officers and police would investigate the cause.
Peter Fellows, who lives across the road, was woken by his dog at 2am.''There were 20 to 30 feet flames. They were huge.''
Other neighbours described the explosion as ''real loud thunder like abomb going off'', he said.
One person at a nearby street thought it was an earthquake.
The elderly man who died was ''really nice'', Fellows said.
He had been in the house to do odd jobs for the man and said it was full of clutter.
When he saw the flames, Fellows knew the man was almost certainly dead.
Michelle Rattray, who lives 10 doors away, said her son felt the explosion.
Debris from the fire rained on the roof of her house.
- The Dominion Post