It was meant to be the moment the hard work stopped - but an emergency at the final moments of a fundraiser sent Kawakawa's volunteer fire brigade away from the heat and into the flames.

The Northland volunteer brigade was in the closing moments of its eighth fishing competition yesterday with the winning 7.53kg snapper about to be declared.

"All day it was full on," said Chief Fire Officer Wayne Martin. All that lay ahead was cleaning up after 180 anglers then firing up barbecues to feed the workers and a few blessedly cold "quiet ones".

Instead, the call came in just after 5pm - a scrub fire which had started next to railway lines behind North Road. The small suburban street backs onto scrub close to the road which connects Kawakawa - and the rest of New Zealand - to Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

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From where it started, the scrub burned across the tracks and into a gully towards about 30 houses.

Martin said by the time it was extinguished - four hours later - the fire had eaten its way across 400 metres of scrub in a 100m strip until it was just 50m from houses.

"The only access to it is through housing," he said, which made it difficult for the brigade's heavy trucks. Long lengths of hose were laid through the houses and into the gully as the call went out for back up.

Support came from a helicopter with a monsoon bucket and, critically, rural fire staff who brought four-wheel drive vehicles to get between houses and down to the burning scrub.

While the brigade doused the fire, family members and locals from the community pulled together to manage the end of the fishing competition and the clean up.

Martin, who didn't see his own fundraiser end, was speaking this morning from the St John Ambulance market in Kawakawa - another way locals generate financial support for the Far North's emergency services.

The fire is being investigated as being deliberately lit. A fire investigator is due back at North Road today, as will fire fighters to ensure no hot spots have been left to flare in the heat of the day.

There was also the intent, said Martin, of putting the barbecues and cold beer to good use.