At least one of the high profile Auckland eateries where fire broke out today is "gutted", says celebrity chef Al Brown.

The kitchen of Brown's Federal St Deli was extensively damaged in the fire that saw hundreds of workers evacuated from adjacent office buildings in downtown Auckland.

Brown posted a photo of the establishment's kitchen which appeared to have wires hanging from an exposed ceiling with insulation, dust and other debris throughout the area.

"Sad day...fire in extraction hoods," he posted on Facebook. "Fed kitchen gutted, Depot, not too bad. Silver lining...no one hurt. Will keep you updated when pastrami and sugar pie back up and feeding the hunger! Thanks for everyone's kind words!"

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Hundreds of people were evacuated from two office blocks in central Auckland near SkyTower this afternoon following a fire in a chimney duct.

Thick smoke was seen billowing out the top of Federal House on Federal St around 2pm.

Workers in the nine storey building - a SkyCity administrative building - and staff from the AA Tower on Albert St were rushed out of the buildings on to the street.

Lunchtime diners in a number of restaurants on the popular Federal St strip were also forced to leave.

Smoke billows from Federal House. Photo / Nick Koefoed
Smoke billows from Federal House. Photo / Nick Koefoed

Television chef Al Brown's restaurants Federal St Deli and Depot were among those evacuated, while nearby Masu was also emptied.

Food and drinks were still sitting on tables at Depot, where diners abandoned their meals to flee the smoke.

SkyCity's casino and convention centre, as well as the Grand Hotel, were not affected.

The first call came to the Fire Service at 1.57pm and it was linked to an alarm in Federal House.

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Fire trucks parked on Federal St, where hundreds of workers and diners gathered around the base of the SkyTower. Fire crews hooked large hoses to fire hydrants and entered Federal House via Depot restaurant. Workers from the AA Tower gathered on Albert St, and around the Crown Plaza hotel.

Both Albert St and Federal St were blocked off to traffic, but it did not appear to cause any major disruption as Federal St - a one-way street - is not a main thoroughfare.

Firefighters outside the SkyCity Convention Centre. Photo / Nick Reed
Firefighters outside the SkyCity Convention Centre. Photo / Nick Reed

The fire was believed to have started in chimney ductings, Fire Service spokesman Dave Carroll said as a thick smell of smoke hung in the air.

A fire of 2m was extinguished but more work was needed to ensure no others started.

"There is a large amount of ducting chimneys and they go through the kitchens in all these restaurants and things," Mr Carroll said.

"The smoke as fumes get sucked out, and one of ductings has caught fire around the back."

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There was a lot of radiated heat near the initial fire that had to be monitored to ensure more fires did not break out, he said.

Crowds wait in the street after the building was evacuated. Photo / NZME.
Crowds wait in the street after the building was evacuated. Photo / NZME.

"We've got the main fire out but we have got a lot of work still to check all the parts of the ducting."

Fire Service spokesman Steve Smith said the fire was third alarm category and 12 fire fighting appliances and around 50 staff were responding.

SkyCity spokesman Colin Espiner said all staff at Federal House had been evacuated from the building and smoke could be seen from the top of the building.

The casino and hotel had not been evacuated, he said.

"We're just letting the fire people do their thing."

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Between 200 and 300 people were evacuated from Federal House, he said.

Fire alarms could still be heard coming from the carpark beside Federal House.

An employee in the AA building, which is adjacent to Federal House, said smoke from the fire had filled his building.

Photo / Alan Nehemia
Photo / Alan Nehemia

One witness said the smoke first looked to be a brown and yellow colour, before appearing to change to grey.

The atmosphere among the waiting workers and diners was calm outside.

Brett Zimmerman and his family were in Federal St Deli when the fire alarm went off.

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"We were moments away from getting our lunch," he said, joking that he was now "starving".

The staff calmly escorted all the diners out of the restaurant and onto the street, he said.

"The wait staff came and asked everybody to leave quietly. It was very civilised, they handled it extremely well. Everybody just vacated the building," he said.

Once outside they could see "smoke billowing" out of the top of the building.

Firefighters evacuate Depot eatery in Federal St. Photo / Daniel Hines
Firefighters evacuate Depot eatery in Federal St. Photo / Daniel Hines

"There was a lot of smoke. When we got out here there was quite a lot of smoke coming off the top of the building.

"There was nothing in the building itself."

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It had not been scary or dramatic, he said.

Auckland diner at Masu, Ming Xia, said she had just started her lunch when she smelled smoke.

"We had just started, we hadn't finished yet," she said.

"We smelled smoke and then the staff told us we have to go."

It was not frightening, she said.

"It's a building, sometimes it happens," she said.

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Smoke billows from Federal House in central Auckland.
Smoke billows from Federal House in central Auckland.