A "lovely woman" who lived alone with a number of small dogs has died in a house fire in Ponsonby this morning.
Firefighters were called to Brown Street about 2am when neighbours woke to see the house engulfed in flames.
Neighbour Maggie Mowbray was woken by one of her dogs making whimpering noises.
She knew her neighbour of 18 years and friend would have been asleep.
"The shock is really catching up with me now. It's all a bit surreal" she said.
"She had a few dogs, Japanese chins, and they were her life. She was a lovely woman."
One of the woman's dogs survived the fire. It is not known how many died.
"She would sit on her verandah with her dogs and watch the world go by. She knew everything about what was going on."
Mrs Mowbray said the woman didn't have family, but had many close friends.
"It's made me think, if you have elderly neighbours it's really important that you find out who to contact in a time like this. Lots of people have asked me who should we ring, and I wished that I knew."
Station officer Darren Gussey said fire officers were still dampening down the house four hours after the fire began.
"There are a lot of hot spots in the house that can flare up again," he said.
The damage was so severe it could take a long time before the cause can be established, Mr Gussey said.
"We have a fire investigator and a police investigator working to establish the cause."
A Richmond Rd resident whose house is directly behind the scene said her daughter woke up to the sound of "thumping and crackling".
"She could smell it... We could see smoke and it was glowy," said the woman, who didn't want to be named.
"There was so much smoke, you could tell it was really very bad."
The woman said police evacuated neighbouring houses very quickly.
"They said, 'come on, get out and over to the other side of the road'. They wouldn't even let me go back for my cat.
"The house next door - its roof caught fire a little bit. I could see little sparks start landing in our garden. I was very worried actually.
"I haven't slept really. I've been so worried," she said.
Vaughn Davis lives on Brown St, two houses from the fire and said on Twitter police called his mobile at 2.45am to tell him to leave the property.
He posted a series of photographs of emergency services at the scene.
Mr Davis also posted a photo of the Japanese chin dog rescued from the fire which is now at his house.
Another witness said the street was "pretty quiet" during the incident, with few neighbours coming outside.
"Flames were over 5m in the air, I could feel the heat from the other side of the road," he said.
Mrs Mowbray's house, which is on the market, suffered fire damage.
She is staying with neighbours until the Fire Service lets her back in to her own home.