Two minutes longer and a fire that destroyed a garage and small flat could also have claimed the lives of four children.
The fire broke out on the corner of Doncaster Drive and Tara Rd in Papamoa about 12.50pm yesterday.
Four children, aged from 2 to 7 years, were asleep in the small flat that backed on to the garage while the occupants of the house at the address were burning rubbish in steel drums near the front of the garage.
One of the residents, who would not be named, told the Bay of Plenty Times those working around the other side of the house had not noticed the blaze until it was too late to put it out.
He had run into the flat, which was separate from the main house, and got all the children out.
"There was smoke billowing out the other end of the garage. I came back [to the flat] within two minutes of getting the kids out to try and get stuff out of the place and the smoke was already up to here," he said, indicating just below his waist.
The man said he was inside the flat for no more than 10 seconds before the smoke forced him out.
The children were unharmed but were upset about losing their toys, he said.
Another occupant of the house said he thought a piece of burning rubbish might have blown out of the drum and set fire to a small amount of petrol that had leaked from a ride-on mower.
He was relieved the children escaped unharmed. Nothing could be salvaged.
A blackened and melted jetski had been moved on to the driveway next to the ride-on lawn mower.
Papamoa resident Jahl Marshall was driving along Tara Rd when he saw smoke so he pulled over, grabbed his camera and went to take a closer look. "There were about a dozen bystanders milling about, watching it," he said. "There was lots of smoke and flames. The flames and smoke was coming out the roof and the windows. It was a pretty decent fire."
Firefighters from Papamoa, Mount Maunganui and Tauranga stations attended.
Tauranga senior fire station officer Terry Mills said firefighters could tell the fire was big before they got there. "We could see the smoke when we were coming down past Baypark," he said.
Tools and a trailer kept inside the garage were also destroyed in the fire.
Mr Mills said such fires could be prevented.
"You shouldn't burn rubbish so close to the structure for a starter and you probably should watch it at all times," Mr Mills said.
It was the fourth major house fire Western Bay firefighters had battled in two weeks.
Firefighters were called to another house fire in Brookfield on Wednesday.
The top floor of a Te Koari Drive house was badly burnt by a toaster that had jammed on.
Power in the street had been off in the morning and the owners had not realised the toaster lever was jammed. When the power was restored the toaster overheated and started the fire.
The owners of the home could not be reached for comment.