A 6-year-old girl was killed in a fire started by a 3-year-old playing with matches in an Auckland home yesterday.

Neighbours and firefighters tried to save the youngster but couldn't break down the door of the Onehunga house and were beaten back by the flames.

"The fire was started by a 3-year-old playing upstairs with matches," said Fire Service manager Peter Wilding. "The fire quickly took hold and set off a smoke alarm. A 10-year-old ran up and dragged the toddler to safety and those in the house evacuated and called 111. It is very sad that the 6-year-old was unable to be rescued."

Assistant Area Fire commander David Woon said neighbours had tried to get to the girl, but were beaten back by the heat.


"It is obviously very distressing for the family and very distressing for our people," he said.

Neighbour Tommy Misa, 23, said the community of flats were "like family".

The girl was one of the youngest of a family of eight children who had lived at the house for 10 years, and often played outside with her siblings and neighbours, he said.

Mr Woon said the girl was not alone in the house at the time, and working smoke alarms were installed.

Bystanders reported seeing smoke billowing from the state housing complex and fire engines at about 4.30pm. The house was one of the furthest from the road in the group of 11 houses.

Fire Service spokesman Scott Osmond said bystanders alerted fire crews that people were still inside the home when they arrived.

"Subsequently a person was [pulled out] but despite our best attempts we couldn't save her," he said.

Firefighters conducted CPR until ambulance crews arrived.

A St John spokesman said the girl was dead when crews arrived.

He said two other people were assessed as having minor injuries that were treated at the scene.

Four fire crews attended the blaze that took 30 minutes to extinguish.

Tom Hamilton, whose daughter Teresa lives nearby, said his 2-year-old grandson often played with the girl. He said the house looked like "quite an inferno upstairs".

The child's body was removed from the house about 7pm. Cordons were expected to remain in place overnight.

Housing NZ confirmed that it had visited the family last night to offer support. "The family has elected to stay with relatives tonight, but we will meet with them again in the morning to talk them through how we can assist them, such as relocating them," it said.

Twenty people were killed in avoidable house fires in the 12 months to July.

The most common causes of the fires were drinking and cooking, faulty appliances or electrical wiring, items too close to a heater, and smoking.

In most cases, there were no working smoke alarms.