A 24-year-old man has been charged with starting a fire which gutted a large East Auckland home and had the occupants running for safety in their dressing gowns.

Three people, including a man and woman wearing dressing gowns, fled the two-storey home after the fire spread from the back of the Somerville Rd house in Howick just after 4pm on Monday.

The woman left the blazing house cuddling her dog while one of the two men had a yellow bird smuggled under his coat. They stood on the doorstep of the house before being escorted into police cars.

A 24-year-old man has been arrested and charged with arson and was due to appear in the Manukau District Court tomorrow, a police media spokesperson said.

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Neil Penfold was driving home from work about 4.10pm when he noticed the fire and stopped to help.

The shocked occupants were standing on the doorstep of the burning house and told him they had a fourth housemate who was not inside.

Penfold could see the fire from the front door and said it was "pretty scary".

Large black smoke plumes could be seen as far as 8km away in Pakuranga.

Fire crews spent several hours battling the large flames and crew spent the night at the site monitoring the property. Fire and Emergency NZ confirmed last night the fire was being treated as suspicious.

Police spent today conducting a scene examination and worked with fire crews to determine the cause of the fire.

The man was arrested this afternoon.

Fire that destroyed East Auckland house being treated as suspicious