A good Samaritan has described the harrowing moments when a pregnant woman jumped from the second storey of a Dunedin flat as it was being engulfed in flames.

Five fire appliances were called to the blaze which started just before noon and "totally destroyed" the Carroll St flat as about 100 people watched from the street.

A neighbour, who did not want to be named, said he ran around to the front of the house and saw the woman, who was not fully dressed, preparing to jump, having made it from a second-storey window to a veranda over the front door.

Five fire appliances were called to the blaze. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Five fire appliances were called to the blaze. Photo / Otago Daily Times

As the flat was burning up behind her, she jumped into the arms of the neighbour, her partner who had also just escaped the blaze and a passerby who pulled up in his car.

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It could have been a very different outcome if she did not jump when she did, as "s... was going south" very quickly.

After hearing there was a fire, the neighbour said, he just acted on instinct and it was only later he realised he was not wearing shoes.

A St John spokesman said the woman, who was pregnant, was assessed at the scene.

She was fine and did not require further treatment.

The woman was earlier seen embracing a man believed to be her partner as firefighters worked to contain the blaze.

Senior Station Officer Justin Wafer, of Dunedin Central, praised those who had caught the woman as "very brave".

The fire was quickly contained by crews but not before it had gutted the flat, leaving only "bare brick" behind, Mr Wafer said.

"All the contents, wall linings and ceilings, furniture, are all totally destroyed."

The connected neighbouring flat received significant smoke damage and some heat and water damage as a result of firefighters battling the blaze.

The cause of the fire was being investigated and Mr Wafer could not confirm speculation from neighbours it had started in the kitchen.

"We believe that it has started in the ground floor and the fire has travelled upstairs where the occupants were at the time of the fire."

The fire "absolutely" could have resulted in a terrible outcome and served as a reminder to have smoke alarms installed and to regularly test them.

A couple console each other after escaping a fire which tore through their Dunedin flat yesterday. Photo / Otago Daily Times
A couple console each other after escaping a fire which tore through their Dunedin flat yesterday. Photo / Otago Daily Times

Firefighters remained at the scene dampening down hot spots until about 4.30pm.

A witness said large flames had been coming out of the top of the building.

Another neighbour reported hearing a loud bang as the fire ripped through the flat.

The building's owner, Mark Thom, said it was distressing to see the flats so badly damaged.

They had great historic value and were built by Presbyterian missionary Alexander Don, who converted Chinese goldminers to Christianity in the 19th century.

He donated the flats to the neighbouring Chinese Mission Church and they used to house Chinese ministers.

It was too early to say what might happen to the building but he would make every effort to retain the flats.