A Bayfair couple due home from Australia today will be assessing the damage caused by an arson attack carried out while they were away.
An elderly neighbour, who did not wish to be named, called 111 about 6.50am yesterday after hearing smoke alarms going off at her landlord's Gloucester Rd house. Smoke was billowing out of the garage and roof of the two-bedroom home.
The neighbour had lived there for about seven years.
"When I saw the smoke I thought 'Oh my God', but I wasn't worried for myself as there is a concrete wall and two garages between us until one of the firemen told me the fire could easily have spread to my house because we share a roof space. That's scary."
Detective Sergeant Iain Chapman told the Bay of Plenty Times the fire, which caused extensive damage to two rooms of the house, was being treated as arson.
"There are also signs a burglary has taken place."
Mr Chapman said the owners, who have been in Australia on holiday for two weeks, had been told and were due home today.
A family friend said the property was insured.
Mr Chapman said the exact source of the fire was yet to be confirmed.
"Given the proximity of the neighbouring property the danger to life was very real and adds another significant serious element to what has occurred. We need the public's help to find whoever has done this," he said.
Bay of Plenty fire safety officer John Rewi said it was too early to say what was used to start the fire.
Mr Chapman said police were keen to speak to anyone who saw anything suspicious in and around Gloucester Rd, Girven Rd and Bayfair in the 12 hours leading up to the 111 callout.
Information should be given to the police on 577 4300 or the Crimestoppers line anonymously on 0800 555 111.