A Hamilton apartment block that was severely damaged by fire early today is believed to have started after an occupant fell asleep smoking a cigarette, neighbours say.

All of the city's fire appliances were sent to the 1.45am Wellington St blaze which fully engulfed the second storey apartment and caused water and smoke damage to at least two others.

Firefighters were called in from surrounding Waikato towns as a second fire at an industrial property in Frankton just 25 minutes later stretched the city's fire force to capacity.

Northern Fire Service shift manager Paul Radden said everyone had managed to get out of the burning apartment block in Wellington St by the time fire crews arrived.


Four crews confined the damage to the one unit as they fought to contain the fire from spreading through the two-storey block.

Marama Tedbury and Rawiri Curtis were asleep in their ground floor apartment when they heard smashing glass. They ran outside to see smoke and then flames billowing from their neighbour's apartment upstairs.

Mr Curtis said he'd been told that his neighbour was having a cigarette in bed when he fell asleep and set the curtain on fire.

"He woke up and the curtain was on fire and he run out to get a big bowl of water and come back and it was engulfed."

Ms Tedbury said between the pair of them they made sure that everyone got out of the eight apartments safely.

But as firefighters tackled the residential blaze a second fire across town at an industrial property meant fire crews from neighbouring Cambridge, Ngaruawahia and Te Awamutu were called in to cover for any further fires in the city.

"We would have had at least 36 firefighters out at one point," Mr Radden said.

"We called off duty crews to maintain coverage of Hamilton at the time."

Mr Radden said firefighters managed to save the second property from extensive damage after a fire had been set alight in a bin next to a building in Frankton.

Fire safety investigators were at both fire scenes to determine the cause of the blazes.