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Firefighters kicked down doors to wake sleeping residents as fire swept through a backpackers' hostel in Auckland early today.

The Fire Service said many residents were unaware of the fire raging in the roof above them at City Travellers in Anzac Ave about 12.30am.

Officer in charge Senior Station Officer Chris Scott said firefighters had to check every room but found many locked doors and had to kick them in to find the sleeping residents.

"It would scare the crap out of you, I would imagine."

He said firefighters had trouble finding the fire after the first call and had to clamber over the roof of an adjacent building before they spotted it.

"It was quite a decent sort of fire.

"We ran in hose lines from the adjacent building and set up our aerial appliances and commenced extinguishing the fire from there."

He said crews coming up from the inside of the burning building found that the fire had spread to the walls.

"We had quite an extensive fire going.... The sprinkler system went off but they (residents) were oblivious to that."

Firefighters broke into roof cavities and wall areas to make sure the fire was out.

Residents were kept on the street for more than two hours before they were allowed back into some of the floors although there was no power because of the fire damage.

"About 3.30am we began re-occupying the building with exception of that fifth floor and allowed them to get a few hours sleep in their own beds."

At the height of the fire 20 appliances were at the scene.

No one was hurt and an appliance remained on standby until daylight when a fire safety officer was expected to examine the building to find out what caused the fire.

- NZPA