Families fought flames with spades, garden hoses and shoes to protect their Havelock North homes yesterday.
Fifteen fire units responded to the grass fire fanned by strong wind in Lane Rd at 11.40am.
Donald and Yvonne Grooby had no idea flames were threatening their home in the steep gully until their children, who live next door, rang them.
"We had just come inside when they said there's a fire up behind your place," Mrs Grooby said.
As the Groobys climbed the hill, the wind changed direction and the flames travelled towards them in knee-high grass.
"We decided to put the hose on it but that wasn't going to do much good," Mrs Grooby said.
The flames continued burning towards their home, despite the prevailing wind blowing in the opposite direction.
With neighbours, they fought flames alongside fire units from Havelock North, Haumoana, Hastings, Napier, Taradale and Rural fire services.
Flames came within 30m of the Groobys' home, as it did with two others.
When firefighters asked if they had a swimming pool, the Grooby family gave their household water supply.
About 4ha was burned before the fire was brought under control.
Havelock North chief fire officer Alvin Wakeford said the fire was getting close to houses "but there was no screaming panic about it. We managed to hold everything back".
The fire service would return to the site to make sure it had not reignited, and land owners would be making patrols.
"It's been pretty well dampened, I'm confident it won't come up again," Mr Wakeford said.
The exact cause of the fire, which started on the Robbie and Maultsaid families' properties, remained a mystery, though an arcing electric fence was suspected.
Geoff Maultsaid said he had seen "flames running along the fence line".
Hastings District Council principal rural fire officer Trevor Mitchell said the fire was a timely reminder that the total fire ban, including fireworks, was in place for an extremely good reason.
"We have had a bit of rain before Christmas and while it has put a bit of green into the countryside it has not been enough to stop the fire danger," Mr Mitchell said.
"Long grass is a problem. It is browning off a little earlier."By Patrick O'Sullivan