A thick smoky haze settled over central Rotorua this afternoon as a fire broke out inside the Government Gardens.

There were seven Fire and Emergency New Zealand trucks in attendance over the course of the fire and by 7pm it was extinguished.

A witness said the flames were 10-feet high at one point.

Trees and shrubs were burnt in the fire and assistant area commander Brendon Grylls said an approximately 40sq m section was affected in total.

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He said they were called to the fire at about 4.30pm.

"It could be a sulphur fire and that's why we've got crews with breathing apparatus," he told the Rotorua Daily Post at the scene.

He said sulphur fires released dangerous toxins when burning, so firefighters approached the blaze with care.

Grylls said they were going to have to cut back branches to make sure the fire was out.

By about 5.30pm, firefighters were damping down hotspots.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand at the scene of a fire inside the Government Gardens in Rotorua. Photos / Rotorua Daily Post
Fire and Emergency New Zealand at the scene of a fire inside the Government Gardens in Rotorua. Photos / Rotorua Daily Post

Grylls said the cause of the fire was undetermined and there would be an investigation into the cause.

Police also attended the incident and said it did not appear the fire was being treated as suspicious at this point.

A reporter at the scene was told by several people gathered nearby that the smoke had caught their attention from a distance.

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Koinonia Kiripatea-Smith, who called emergency services, told the Post that the heat from the flames was "strong and scary".

She was driving back from Sulphur Point with her mother when she thought she saw fog coming from the direction of the museum.

"We carried on to the Government Gardens and we started to see smoke. By the time we got there the flames were 10-feet high and it was hot and the smoke was thick.

"Within two to three minutes it had spread up a tree which is how it got so high."

Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council
Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council
Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council
Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council
Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council
Photo / Rotorua Lakes Council

Kiripatea-Smith said people were trying to move their cars out of nearby parking spots as the fire took hold.

"I was standing about 150 feet from the flames and it is hard to describe that heat. It was strong and scary."

Rotorua Lakes Council, in a post on social media, said the fire was in the bush area alongside Queens Drive, near the Prince's Gate arches.

Councillor Tania Tapsell said the Government Gardens was a very important area for the community, "and I am pleased to hear the fire service responded as quickly as possible and did an excellent job at getting it under control quickly".