It was around two in the morning when Clarence Johns awoke to what he thought was his phone ringing.

It wasn't. Instead it was the smoke alarms going off as fire gutted the house in Wallis Place, Onekawa, which he and his friend, Clement Gough , who rents the house, were sleeping in.

"If it wasn't for those smoke alarms, we'd be screwed," Johns said.

He said he normally sleeps with his door shut, but had left it open that night, which turned out to be lucky, as he was not sure he would have heard the smoke alarm in time otherwise.

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"I could smell the burning smell," he recalled.

He ran down the hallway, saw the extent of the fire, and realised there was nothing he could do, so he woke up Gough and they got out of the house.

"It was too far gone, there was nothing we could do."

Gough said he was grateful his son was in Wellington for the night.

"I'm grateful that my boy didn't come home."

It's a terrible end to a rough year for Gough, he buried both his parents within six months of each other in 2018.

Despite that, he was trying to look on the bright side of life.

"I think I've learnt over the years that it's not good stressing over things."

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He said the fire was caused by accidentally leaving a pot on the stove.

Johns said he couldn't believe how quickly the fire moved through the house.

"People laugh and joke about seeing those ads on TV, how fast a fire can move through a house, I'll tell you what, it's true, it does not take much at all.

"Once it went up into the ceiling and went along, no coming back from that."

He said he was grateful for the speed and skill of the firefighters who arrived on the scene.

"I've got to take my hat off to those guys who turned up last night, from the time they turned up, the way they were organised, they were on it like that, they were really organised and quick."

Remnants of the stove which caused the fire in Onekawa early Sunday morning. Photo / Paul Taylor
Remnants of the stove which caused the fire in Onekawa early Sunday morning. Photo / Paul Taylor

Later in the morning as the two men were still coming to terms with what had happened, Johns realising he had nothing to give his children for Christmas.

Neighbour Teresa Hema set up a Givealittle page, saying it was a blessing that both men were alive and well, but that they had lost everything.

To donate visit: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/house-fire-5.

Fire and Emergency NZ confirmed they were called to the house, arriving at 2.15am on Sunday. The fire was contained by 2.37am.