A 16-year-old girl is fighting for her life in Middlemore Hospital after receiving a massive electric shock from a 33,000 volt power line in Nelson last night.

Emergency services were called to the Nelson Electricity substation in Hastings St about 10.50pm after receiving reports of a person hanging from the power line.

Constable Vaughan Joyce of Nelson police said they did not yet know what had led the girl to dangle from the lines, but when they arrived, she was lying on the ground beneath.

She was taken to Nelson Hospital by St John Ambulance with life-threatening injuries and was transferred to Middlemore Hospital in Auckland during the night.

A spokeswoman for the Counties Manukau District Health Board said on Wednesday morning the teen was in intensive care in a critical condition.

Nelson woman Helen Winstone was playing pool with friends at Charlie's Tavern opposite the substation when the power went out.

They looked out of a window facing the substation and saw something on fire.

"It was really hard to tell at the time. We thought someone had thrown something over the line ... so we went outside and that is when we heard the screaming.

"We could tell, even though you couldn't really see because of the flames, you could tell it was a girl by her screams."

The girl, who had been hanging by her leg or foot, fell just before the emergency services arrived. "It was horrific," Miss Winstone said.

She said once the girl fell, they lost sight of her, apart from one arm, which was still on fire.

Nelson Electricity general manager Phil Goodall said power was cut to about 4500 customers in the port, CBD and Emano St areas from 10.45pm to 11.35pm.

Mr Goodall said the area broken into was a secure, fenced switchyard, and they were not yet sure how the girl had gained entry.

It appeared that, once inside, she climbed a 10m pole before getting hooked up in the wire and being electrocuted for a period of time before falling to the ground.

"It's pretty nasty," Mr Goodall said.

"We'll get to the bottom of it in due course, but obviously, we are concerned about the tragic situation ... it is pretty hard to put in words."

He said it was the first time something like this had happened on the Nelson Electricity network.

"By virtue of someone getting in, we need to work out exactly how, and why, and what we need to do to make sure it can't happen again."

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