Quick-thinking children who doused a man who had gone up in flames probably saved his life, a fire investigator says.

The man was working on an old motorbike in his Auckland carport this afternoon when some fuel exploded, setting him alight.

His wife and two small children were metres away.

Neighbour Aaisha Salim, 13, heard screaming and looked out the window to see thick black smoke billowing from the house behind her on Landscape Rd in Papatoetoe.

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"I jumped out the window and saw the lady next door screaming and holding her babies ... I could see black clouds coming from the car."

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South Auckland man burnt after motorbike catches fire

She grabbed a hose and gave it to Ariki McLennan, 12, who hosed the man down until the fire was out.

"The man was on fire. All his clothes were burning off," Aaisha said.

The car also appeared to have caught fire.

Brothers Ifraan Shah and Ta Mangi, both 13, shouted and ran to get help.

The man was taken to Middlemore Hospital by ambulance with serious burns.

The children's actions most likely saved the man's life, fire investigator Robert Watson said.

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"We don't really give kids much [credit] but ... they did a tremendous job," he said.

"They did a fantastic job. They responded well, took positive action and they may well have contributed to saving a life."

Nisha Khan, the children's foster mother, did not see the incident. But she said after the children put out the fire the man was still conscious and walking around.

"I told him, don't walk around, it's going to get worse," the 33-year-old said. "Go inside and get in cold water."

Children (from left) Ifraan Shah, 13, Ta Mangi, 13, Ariki McLennan, 12, and Aaisha Salim, 13, were quick to react when they heard screams coming from their neighbour's driveway today. Photo / Greg Bowker
Children (from left) Ifraan Shah, 13, Ta Mangi, 13, Ariki McLennan, 12, and Aaisha Salim, 13, were quick to react when they heard screams coming from their neighbour's driveway today. Photo / Greg Bowker

Fire crews were called at 12.10pm, but when the Papatoetoe fire crew arrived at the scene the fire was out, senior station officer Dave McKeown said.

Watson said the man was trying to start the bike, which had not been running for about eight years. His children were playing in the car and the mother was nearby when the explosion happened, he said.

"Poor electrical connections and petrol don't really mix. Attributing blame is not our role but it's not suspicious," he said.

"There's a warning there though - any time you're fooling around with petrol there's enormous potential for something to go wrong."