The man who died in an Ōtāhuhu boardinghouse fire last night was an elderly retired truck driver who had lived alone in the facility for many years.

The boardinghouse owner, Auckland accountant Kwek Fam, said the man was there when he bought the building in 2015 and had lived there for some time before that.

His first name was Henry, but Fam did not know his surname.

"I think he was over 70," he said.

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"He was very happy to be staying there. We had no issues with him. He was always smiling, kept everything to himself."

Kwek Fam:
Kwek Fam: "We've got 25 people staying there. To lose one is a great sorrow to me." Photo / APEC Accounting website

He said the man was a New Zealander, possibly Māori, and spoke of having a niece.

"I have never met her but he always mentioned about his niece, he always claimed he had a niece to come and see him," he said.

"He told me he used to be a truck driver a long time ago."

Fam said the man had "a leg problem" and used to see a doctor, but had not been in hospital recently.

Friends paid tribute to him on the nzherald.co.nz Facebook page. Ben Shepherd posted: "We will miss you Henry."

Samia Habiba Khan posted simply: "RIP Henry."

He lived in a room on the first floor of the three-level, 31-room Wembley Guest House at 35 Moa St near the corner of Station Rd in Ōtāhuhu.

Ten fire trucks attended the fire after fire services and police were called around 5.50pm last night.

The Wembley guesthouse in Otahuhu. Photo / Google Maps
The Wembley guesthouse in Otahuhu. Photo / Google Maps

The manager of the guesthouse, Ofa Hoskin, told the Herald last night that she believed a heater might have been responsible for the blaze.

She said it was isolated to one part of the building. She said the building was equipped with smoke alarms and was directly linked to the fire department.

Fam said he believed the fire started in the room of the man who died.

Police posted a guard at the building overnight and said they would work with fire services to investigate the causes of the fire today.

Fam said the 25 people who were staying in the building last night had not yet been allowed back in.

"Some stayed with their friends, some stayed in a motel and another boardinghouse," he said.

He said he rushed to the scene when he was told about the fire last night, but it was extinguished by the time he got there.

"We've got 25 people staying there. To lose one is a great sorrow to me," he said.

"I couldn't sleep the whole night thinking about him, you know. I don't know why he didn't escape."