A family narrowly escaped serious harm when the car they had been driving through the Kaimai ranges exploded in flames minutes after they jumped out.

Papamoa man Maikol Cifuentes had stopped to take photos of the scenery on the way to Tauranga around 3.30 this afternoon when he saw a car streaming smoke behind it pull to the side of the road.

The five occupants jumped out and Mr Cifuentes helped them remove their belongings before the car burst into flames on the side of the road.

A trailer also had to be unhitched from the back of the car, preventing it from later catching fire.

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He and the others had not realised how serious the situation was, Mr Cifuentes said, and didn't realise they were putting themselves in danger by returning to the car.

"It's not like in the movies, it's not like there's smoke and then all of a sudden it explodes."

Photo / Maikol Cifuentes
Photo / Maikol Cifuentes

They had initially thought the car had overheated and would be fine after seeing smoke come out over the back wheel, but minutes later the vehicle caught fire.

The people in the car appeared to be a family with three teenage children, the youngest of whom was around 12 years old, Mr Cifuentes said.

The younger boy and a girl of about 14 were "really crying, they were very upset."

An older boy looked to be about 18, Mr Cifuentes said, and a grown man and woman, possibly the children's parents, were also present.

While they were all upset lose their car, the children's father was only concerned about his family and relieved they were safe.

"The dad was telling his boy hey it's just [objects] don't be upset."

Fire was first on the scene, Mr Cifuentes said, and by the time they arrived the car was completely engulfed in flame.

Police also attended.