The man who set himself on fire outside Parliament yesterday has died.

Witnesses to yesterday's horrifying tragedy say they had seen the man earlier in the week outside the Court of Appeal with protest signs that suggested he was involved in a custody dispute.

He died in Wellington Hospital overnight.

The site outside Parliament has been blessed this morning.

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A small gathering stood in silence as several karakia were performed, next to the fenced-off grass section in front of Parliament's forecourt. A number of Parliamentary security guards were present.

Full precinct access has been restored, and Parliamentary staff have been offered counselling.

The site outside Parliament was blessed this morning. Photo / Nicholas Jones
The site outside Parliament was blessed this morning. Photo / Nicholas Jones

Witnesses say kitchen staff from the Backbencher pub sprinted with buckets of water and fire extinguishers to help douse the burning man yesterday afternoon.

Eli Chamberlain was walking through the Parliament grounds when he saw smoke coming from near the forecourt.

"I thought a protester had set off fireworks," he said.

"Then I realised it was something quite serious. I didn't see him on fire but I saw people running towards him."

The injured man was lying on the ground with up to 20 people surrounding him. Most were standing in shocked silence but several were pouring water over him, Chamberlain said.

"It was pretty out of the blue - kind of shocking and unexpected," Chamberlain said.

"They were running like mad to help this stranger. They were sprinting for their lives, pouring water straight onto him but he didn't appear to move at all."

One man looked terrified but was still sprinting back and forth with water, doing a "crazy job".

Another witness saw the man walking around on fire, then heard a high-pitched scream and saw the man fall over.

A man from the Backbencher ran with a fire extinguisher to help put out the flames, while someone else used a bag to keep the fire down. Security guards brought wet blankets to cover the man. The man was unresponsive.

Within five minutes the area was flooded with emergency responders. A short time later the patient was covered in a sheet and put in an ambulance.

The man was taken to Wellington Hospital in a critical condition.

One witness suggested the fire may have been an accident and the man had been trying to set fire to his signs. But Chamberlain said the signs were propped several metres away and were intact.

Several people said they had seen the man with his signs outside the Court of Appeal this week. The wording suggested his protest was related to a child custody dispute.

It is thought the man was known to security staff, and had attended a number of demonstrations outside Parliament and the Wellington District Court.

Kerry Bevin, a prominent spokesman for men's rights, said members had contacted the man before the tragedy.

"Being part of the wider men's movement and interested in the welfare of fathers and families, we are deeply connected to this and many of us have been working on this for some 20 years," Bevin said.

"What a terrible thing for his immediate family, and what his children will have to come to terms with is, this is going to scar them for life."

Police are continuing to investigate on behalf of the coroner. They were making inquiries into the man's identity and motives last night and were treating the area as a crime scene. They have asked for anyone with footage to contact police.

WHERE TO GET HELP

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757