A man suffered serious burns to most of his body after the boat he was in burst into flames while he was filling the tank with petrol.

Maketu fire chief Shane Beech said it was only thanks to the quick thinking of the man's friends that the whole petrol station did not go up in flames.

They pulled the man out of the burning boat, towed it across the road to an empty gravel area and unhooked it from the car while emergency services were on their way.

Firefighters were called to the fire about 4.30pm today and arrived to find the 8.25-metre aluminium boat fully engulfed in flames.

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Mr Beech said the fire had started while a Reporoa man was filling the underfloor tank when the fumes ignited, engulfing him and the boat.

The boat's owner, who was clearly upset, told a Bay of Plenty Times Weekend reporter at the scene he was inside waiting to pay for the petrol when the fire broke out.

The owner, who was from Taupo, raced outside and pulled his friend from the boat so service station attendants could hose him down to keep him cool until emergency services arrived.

He then moved the boat and unhooked it.

The man suffered serious burns to most of his body and was flown to Waikato Hospital in the rescue helicopter.

It took firefighters about 15 minutes to put out the fire.

Mr Beech said he was unsure how the fire started.

"It could have been electrical ignition or anything in the boat," he said.

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"The boat's completely written off."

Underfloor tanks needed to be well ventilated to prevent such instances while filling up, especially in hot weather, Mr Beech said.

The Te Puke water tanker was brought in to provide water to douse the fire, he said.
Police and St John ambulance staff were also called to the scene.

St John Western Bay territory manager Ross Clarke confirmed a man in his 40s had been flown to Waikato Hospital with "serious burns" from the scene of the incident.

Gull general manager Dave Bodger said the service station had been closed and now had specialist contractors on site to determine the cause of the incident.

He was unsure when the station would reopen.