A man living next door to an abandoned house which caught fire last night in Wellington's Newtown says he saw a woman running out of it screaming "help me" repeatedly.
Dylan McIntosh told 1 NEWS he was in bed, awake, when he heard yelling and popping sounds outside.
Freaked out, he moved his car, before looking up and seeing the Hanson St house next door on fire.
"I looked up and the house was like, going up, and this chick was running out screaming. She was like 'help me, help me, help me'.
"That house is abandoned, so there shouldn't have been anyone in there."
He said her screaming "freaked" him out more than the flames.
McIntosh said she came running down some outside steps with police around her.
He believed the house was being used by squatters.
Four houses were either destroyed or badly damaged as the fire spread, with police treating the incident as suspicious.
From his backyard, McIntosh said he could see one wall of the abandoned house remaining on that side.
"It's completely destroyed."
Firefighters had warned him the wall could collapse.
Luckily, his house did not suffer any damage in the fire, he said, but the backyard was a bit flooded from the firefighting efforts.
Another Hanson St resident, Greg Bodnar, also said he was glad his house had escaped the flames.
"We have a place to stay tonight, even if it is a bit smokey. That's not always the case for other people."
His partner had woken him up, but before they were told to evacuate they had gathered the kids as they could smell smoke, he said.
He described his girls as "brave" and said he would assess any kind of damage in his home.
In a statement from Wellington City Council, a spokesperson said Community Services staff have been assisting 11 residents from three families that were either left homeless or evacuated after the fire.
"Council public health staff are inspecting the fire scene and surrounding properties today to check for the presence of asbestos that may have spread from the roof cladding of both damaged buildings – however their initial finding is that the risk is low given overnight rainfall and the large amount of water used to fight the fire and dampen down the scene," the spokesperson said.
Initial inquiries today into the background of the property at 125 Hanson Street – where the fire is understood to have started – have confirmed that the City Council had been actively working to manage the complaints from neighbours about the state of the property.
Acting chief operating officer, James Roberts, says Council public health, building compliance and community services staff had been working with police and other agencies, and the property owner, to try to reduce the risk presented by the property.Mr Roberts says the situation was "complex, deeply unfortunate and difficult to resolve" given the restrictive powers of the interested agencies.