Neighbours rushed to get a woman living at the back of Stephen's Church out of her house as a major fire ravaged the historic church in the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby.
Olivia Kellow resides in the old minister's house behind the central city church on Jervois Rd and said smoke began filling her house at around 3.30pm on Saturday.
"Neighbours came rushing over telling us to get out and we spread the word to our street," she said.
"By the time we were out of the house, smoke had come through the chimneys and open windows, and our smoke alarms were set off."
Kellow said the fire was blazing out of the church windows and many people had stopped on the street to watch.
"The wind was carrying the smoke northerly over our home. At 6pm we quickly went back into the house to grab essentials as our house had too much smoke for us to stay," she said.
Grey Lynn fire station officer Shane Olsen said fire crew would stay around for the next couple of hours dampening any hot spots.
This morning, thermal imaging cameras had been used to find any hot spots on the roof and around the church.
The church service is being held at the church hall adjacent to the main building today.
Olsen said investigators are expected at the site around midday. The cause of fire is still unknown.
Church minister Rev Grant Ridout said parishioners were sad but hopeful.
"Hopeful that things will be fine and we will continue on, we will stay and serve this community as we have for many years," he said.
"It's been overwhelming how many people have shown such an emotional connection to this place, to this building, the church and congregation."
It is still unknown what caused the fire, but early indications have shown that the damage is mainly on the roof and the main structure hasn't been too badly affected.
Events were being held at the church yesterday at the time the fire broke out, including a birthday party.
Emergency services rushed to the scene after fire broke out at the 141-year-old church yesterday afternoon.
A Fire and Emergency spokeswoman said the cause of fire was under investigation.
Smoke from the blaze could have been seen from as far away as Auckland's North Shore.
By 5.45pm, 18 fire trucks had attended to fight the blaze, which was well alight but was contained. By 8pm, crews were seen dampening down hotspots.
A Herne Bay local, who wished to be named only as Anna, said neighbours were gutted by the church fire.
"The church has been part of our community, and has played a big part of the community," she said.
"With its soup kitchen, fundraisers and community events, it's meant so much for people living around here. I feel bitterly gutted that something like this has happened."
Worshippers from the neighbouring Ponsonby Baptist Church walked over after their service and performed a waiata.
The church, opened in 1879, is a Category 2 building made out of kauri, according to the Heritage NZ website.
It was designed in a Gothic revival style by architect Edward Mahoney.
In 1907, a major extension was added in an Edwardian style influenced by the emerging Baroque style designed by architect Robert Martin Watt.