The owner of a garage adjacent to a fatal fire in Hastings heard children screaming before a loud explosion.

A 10-year-old boy died early this morning and another remains in Hawke's Bay Hospital following a suspicious fire at a property on Heretaunga St West, St Leonards, yesterday.

David Jones Motors owner David Jones said he was working on a car within three metres of the fence between his business and the site where the blaze occurred.

At about 2.30pm, he heard children screaming seconds before a loud explosion and smoke started billowing from a large shed next door.

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One of his employees, who is also a volunteer firefighter, went around the back of his business to the entrance of the site to try to help and Jones used the garage's two hoses to douse some of the flames over the fence.

"He tried to get into the building but the smoke was so thick."

Three people who were undergoing road works on Heretaunga St also rushed to the scene to help.

The owner of a garage next to a fatal fire heard children screaming and a loud explosion. Photo/Warren Buckland
The owner of a garage next to a fatal fire heard children screaming and a loud explosion. Photo/Warren Buckland

Within five minutes, emergency services had arrived and carried out one of the children, he said.

Jones and his employees had some smoke inhalation but there was no damage to the building and the 37-year-old business was back in operation today.

Stortford Auto Sales owner David Vesty said the commercial address where the blaze started had been for sale for quite some time.

"They should demolish it now."

One of his car yards adjoins the site and some of his cars were only 2m from the blaze but he did not know whether any had smoke damage.

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He was driving back from Napier when he saw smoke billowing from the site and initially thought the fire was located at his car yard.

Co-owner Brendon Vesty said he was at work when the fire started and he could hear children screaming inside the building.

He opened the gate of the car yard to help fire crews get through to the blaze.

An employee of a nearby business, who did not want to be named, said he also heard screaming and smoke pouring out of the building.

The people who ran in to help the children from a road work company were "fantastic and so brave", he said.

The employee ran back to his shop to get a ladder to help as there was a child stuck behind a grate but by the time he returned the helpers managed to get inside the building.

"They tore the grate off, they were so quick."

The building where the fire started was vacant but was frequently used by lots of people including children and adults, he said.

"All sorts of people have been going in there."

A neighbour who has lived across the road from the address for 15 years said the fire started in an old shed which probably had oil in it because a power equipment company used to be located there.

Hawke's Bay Area Investigations Manager Detective Senior Sergeant Martin James said
police and fire investigators had completed the examination of the disused building.

Mr James said once those enquiries are completed the matter will be referred to the Coroner.

He said police were not yet in a position to release the name of the boy who died at this stage.

The building was owned by Outdoor Power and was listed for lease by Colliers International.

Colliers International Central region commercial leasing manager Danny Blair said the property had been on the market for about a year.

It had some interest from tenants as a development site and would likely remain on the market.

Outdoor Power owner Trevor Manuel offered his sympathies to the children who were injured and their families, and of course, to the family of the child who passed away.

"Like everyone, I am shocked and upset by these events. However, with the investigation still continuing it is not appropriate for me to add any further comment or make any other statements at this time," Mr Manuel said.

Anyone who saw any unusual activity near the property on Heretaunga St West was urged to called Hastings Police on 06 873 0500 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.