A widow and her grandson lost everything but the clothes they were wearing when their Kawakawa home was razed by fire.
The blaze, on Boswell St near the railway station, started just before 9pm on Tuesday as Ngaere Ututaonga and her grandson were watching Sensing Murder on TV.
Mrs Ututaonga said she smelt something like plastic burning and asked her grandson to check if any of the neighbours were burning rubbish or if she'd left an element on. Next he checked all the rooms in the century-old railway cottage.
"Then I heard him say, 'Oh, nan', and he closed the door. He couldn't say anything else. I pushed the toilet door open and flames were coming out. He made me get out of the house. A neighbour was already on her verandah calling the fire brigade," she said.
"It was fast. Smoke was already coming out the house."
Mrs Ututaonga said they had no time to save anything. As well as clothing and furniture she had lost the family photos and memorabilia that lined the living room walls.
Her grandson, who did not want to be named, said he was confronted by smoke and flames when he opened the toilet door.
"The fire was big enough to tell my nan to get out of the house," he said.
Then there was little they could do but wait for the fire brigade to arrive. There was a delay while firefighters grappled with hydrants which weren't working properly. Contractors were at Boswell St yesterday inspecting the hydrants.
Kawakawa fire chief Wayne Martin said four crews, two each from Kawakawa and Paihia, fought the fire. The Paihia firefighters had just finished their training night and were still at the station when the alarm sounded.
The house was already well involved so firefighters focussed on protecting the two neighbouring houses first. The closest was just a few metres away but was undamaged.
It took about 40 minutes to bring the fire under control and three hours before it was safe for the brigade to go home.
An electrical fault was the likely cause. A fire investigator was due to inspect what remained of the rented house yesterday afternoon.
Mrs Ututaonga and her grandson are currently staying with whanau in Kawakawa.
Meanwhile, an investigation is underway into a suspected arson at Poroti. The fire service attended the incident on Maungakura Rd at about 11.50pm on Tuesday.
Police spokeswoman Sarah Kennett said CIB were working with the fire service on the matter.
"It's a single storey portable living quarters. There was no-one there at the time of the fire and we aren't yet sure whether anyone was living there."