Key Points:

A 12-year-old girl is being praised for saving the lives of her five younger siblings during a fire which gutted her Manukau home in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The blaze, which is being treated as suspicious, destroyed the three-bedroom Housing New Zealand home in Rata Vine Drive where six children were sleeping. There were also two adults in the house.

Fire Safety Investigator Terry Castle said the house was well ablaze by the time firefighters were called and officers on the first fire engine could see it burning from streets away.

By the time they arrived all of the eight occupants were out of the house - but only thanks to the 12-year-old and a neighbour who heard cries for help.

"We are very very lucky that we didn't end up with a multiple fatality."

Mr Castle said the children all escaped out of a bedroom window. The youngest two, who were 2 and 3, would never have made it out on their own if it wasn't for the help of their eldest sister who lowered them out.

"I have to say I heap a great deal of praise on the 12-year-old daughter. She did a magnificent job under very difficult circumstances. She's really responsible for the kids being here now. She did a great job."

A woman, who is believed to be the children's mother, was pulled through another window by a neighbour who is also being praised for his actions.

"I think she probably would have fallen back into the building and died in that bedroom [if the neighbour had not pulled her out]."

"I think she was intoxicated and she also had smoke inhalation and some burns which I understand were not serious. It was a good samaritan thing by the neighbour."

The other adult, who was also believed to have been intoxicated and the father of the children, escaped out a door and was not injured.

Mr Castle said the fire is being treated as an arson and is believed to have started in a central bedroom of the house.

There was nothing to indicate an intruder had entered the house and started the blaze, nor was there anything to indicate that the children were responsible.

Mr Castle said the mother was treated in hospital for her injuries but had since been released. The children were staying with relatives.

Police are investigating the fire.