A Whangārei woman had to be dragged from her burning home by a neighbour as she tried to extinguish the fire with a garden hose.

The neighbour in Tennyson St, just south of the central city, who did not want to be identified, said he had been waterblasting his driveway when he noticed smoke coming from the roof of a two-storeyed home about 2.30pm.

With five years' previous experience as a firefighter he knew that when the smoke turned to black it was not a good sign and the house was on fire.

He rushed across the road and found the woman inside with a garden hose trying to put out the fire coming down the stairs from a room on the top floor.

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The woman was taken outside but the man called out for her young son who he knew lived at the house as well.

"She went back in and I pushed her out. I got her outside to the bottom of the stairs then she raced past me again," he said.

"She was red on her arms and I thought she had been burnt by the fire. She said she wanted to go back in and get the puppies."

A cat jumped from the window of the top storey as firefighters worked to put out the fire.

The woman's son had made it safely out through the back of the house and gone to a neighbours.

The man thought the woman has been in the house for about six years and he was aware she had a number of children, which he was initially concerned for when the fire started.

"She had her boys and a young girl there over the weekend I just wanted to make sure they were all out."

A fire investigator was at the house and was to survey the damage and determine what may have caused the blaze.

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SPCA officers were called and took away two adult dogs and some puppies.

A team of firefighters from Whangārei station were called and managed to get the fire under control and members of the Onerahi brigade were also called to the scene.