The sight of a woman fighting for her life inside a burning car will forever remain with Tipene Pine.

He instantly thought the worst. How could she survive?

"I was scared. I thought she was going to die. It could have been way worse than what it was," he said.

A "massive explosion" jolted him out of his house on Lister Crescent in the suburb of Maraenui - his legs registering the severity of the situation faster than his brain.

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"I thought it was a bomb or something. It shook the whole street. There was a big rumble and then boom - it lasted for about three seconds," he said.

"I came running out the door and a van was on fire. There was a woman inside and she was trying to put it out."

The windows shattered and the doors blew out due to the intensity of the heat, Pine says. "I've never seen anything like that before."

He recalls immediately seeing aerosol cans scattered on the floor in the inside of the vehicle.

"I think that's what caused the explosion - being in an enclosed environment like that and using them is just stupid."

Emergency services were called to the scene of the car fire at 1.30am on Wednesday. Initial reports suggested a house could be in danger of catching fire.

A Fire and Emergency NZ spokesman said the fire was being treated as suspicious and a fire investigator would be looking into it.

St John Ambulance transported one patient in a serious condition to Hawke's Bay Hospital. She was then moved to Hutt Hospital.

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A Hutt Valley District Health Board spokesman said the woman was in a stable condition.

Pine is relieved the woman survived. He had seen her "every now and again" and says the woman "didn't say much" once she stumbled out of the car.

"She was actually very distraught. We could see she was burnt - half of her face was all burnt and her arms her upper torso were burnt too," he said.

"She was walking around like nothing had happened. She looked in shock."