A fire that engulfed an apartment building in southern Taiwan has killed 25 people, according to locals official, who said they expect the death toll to rise further.

The 13-storey building caught fire at around 3am on Thursday, fire officials in the city of Kaohsiung said. A fire department statement said the blaze was “extremely fierce” and destroyed many floors.

At least 11 bodies were sent straight to the morgue, Fire Chief Li Ching-hsiu told reporters at the scene. Another 14 who showed no sign of life were among 55 taken to hospital.

In Taiwan, official confirmation of a death can only be made in the hospital.

Fire crews at the scene
Fire crews at the scene (EBC/AP )

Mr Li said the death toll could pass 40 as firefighters conducted search and rescue efforts into the afternoon.

Video broadcast on Taiwanese television showed orange flames and smoke billowing out of the lower floors of the building as firefighters sprayed water at it from the street.

After daybreak, they could be seen spraying water into the middle floors of the still smouldering building from elevated platforms.

The cause of the fire was unclear, but firefighters noted the flames burned most intensely where a lot of clutter had been piled up, the fire department statement said.

Witnesses told Taiwanese media that they heard an explosion at around 3am.

The building is about 40 years old with shops on the lower levels and apartments above. The lower floors were completely blackened.