An early morning fire which damaged the inside of a Mount Maunganui restaurant is being treated as suspicious.

Firefighters were called to the Taste of Asia restaurant on Maunganui Rd just after 2.30am yesterday when flames were seen billowing from the rear of the building.

Sheila Bouma was at home when she heard the crackling of fire coming from the nearby restaurant.

"It sounded like firecrackers going off," she said. "I happened to be awake and I could see the reflection of the flames on the ceiling."

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Bouma quickly phoned 111.

"It was a bit scary."

Fire safety investigator Jon Rewi said he was treating the fire as suspicious.

"It could have been deliberately lit."

Rewi said the fire appeared to have started in the back of the building where there were "lots and lots" of rubbish bins and skip bins.

The fire had damaged "mostly everything" inside the restaurant.

Rewi encouraged business owners to keep their rubbish and skip bins away from their buildings.

Three fire brigades from Tauranga, Mount Maunganui and Greerton were called to the scene.

A police media communications confirmed police were also investigating.

Police tape was put up outside the restaurant as the investigation continued. Photo / Andrew Warner
Police tape was put up outside the restaurant as the investigation continued. Photo / Andrew Warner