A firefighter has been injured battling a fierce blaze that razed Wellington's Tapu Te Ranga Marae overnight.

A total of 70 firefighters were called to the fire at the sprawling live-in urban marae at Island Bay at 12.30am this morning.

A group of 36 people - reportedly including 20 Scouts - staying at the marae were forced to flee the blaze and everyone inside had been accounted for, Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) said this morning.

One firefighter had received burns to his hands and had been taken to hospital.

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A multi-storey building in the marae complex was razed in the fire and other buildings were damaged - however the main meeting house was saved from the flames.

"A number of neighbouring houses to the north of the marae complex were evacuated," FENZ said.

"Some people have been allowed to return to their properties this morning. Those who haven't are being accommodated at a welfare centre set up by Wellington City Council in Island Bay."

Three fire trucks remained at the site to dampen down hot spots.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester tweeted his thanks to the fire service, adding that council staff had sheltered 30 people including a group of 20 Scouts.

Tributes to the marae and its founder Bruce Stewart have been pouring in on social media, with many people writing of their sorrow at seeing the building destroyed.

Tapu Te Ranga was built in the 1970s by people from the local community, led by Stewart, an author and playwright who died in 2017.

Stewart wanted the marae to serve as a place where unemployed and homeless young Māori could learn life skills and reconnect with their culture. In recent years thousands of people have visited the marae annually.

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Bruce Stewart, who founded Tapu Te Ranga Marae, died in 2017. File photo / Robert Paterson
Bruce Stewart, who founded Tapu Te Ranga Marae, died in 2017. File photo / Robert Paterson

Council labelled marae building a 'death trap'

In 2016 part of the marae complex was labelled a "death trap" by Wellington City Council, with buildings closed off due to concerns about lack of consent.

Council spokesman Richard MacLean told RNZ the council could not turn a blind eye to the hazard any more.

"A number of the buildings on the site have been built or altered without consent. Inspections last year found a number of major problems – including serious fire risk, lack of safe escape routes and structural problems," he said at the time.

But supporters of the marae hit back, saying the council had a fraught relationship with the marae and perhaps did not understand its importance.

The multi-storey marae building at Tapu Te Ranga has been completely destroyed, but the main meeting house has been saved. Google Photo / Rebekah Fraser
The multi-storey marae building at Tapu Te Ranga has been completely destroyed, but the main meeting house has been saved. Google Photo / Rebekah Fraser

Earlier this morning, Fire and Emergency NZ central shift manager Mike Wanoa said the main building was in ruins but the meeting house has been saved.

The fire service was first called to the marae at about 12.30am, with multiple calls to a "very very large fire", Wanoa said.

"There were people there, a large group, but no one was hurt and they were evacuated."

At the height of the blaze nineteen fire appliances and around 50 firefighters attended from the city, Porirua and Lower Hutt. Police also attended the incident to help evacuate the marae and neighbouring properties.

The fire was brought under control shortly after 3am but is still not out, he said. Four appliances and other supporting units with officers are at the scene.

The huge main marae building had completely collapsed and other outbuildings were also compromised, Wanoa said. No neighbouring properties had been damaged although there was a large amount of smoke and some homes were evacuated.

When dawn broke fire investigators would begin looking into the cause of the blaze.

The marae has issued a brief statement on Facebook, thanking emergency services, Māori Wardens, and Wellington City Council staff and volunteers.

"We are grateful that residents and the Marae whānau are safe and accounted for," the statement said. Further comment would be given later today.