A Hokianga man whose car burst into flames while driving through the Waipoua Forest was a bit worried the fire could spread to the forest.

"No one wants to be known as the one who burnt down Waipoua Forest," Justin Tilly said.

Mr Tilly, a carpenter, was driving his Toyota Land Cruser on State Highway 12 from Hokianga to Dargaville on Thursday when it started "missing a little".

He was about a kilometre south of the turn off to the Waipoua Forest headquarters when his vehicle stalled and he pulled off to the side of the road about 2.45pm.

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Mr Tilly hopped out of his car, heard it was still running, and immediately hopped back in thinking he hadn't turned it off properly.

He said his first concern was he was stranded in the forest with a broken down car.

The car was still running when he hopped out a second time. Shortly after it stopped running and started smoking.

He said a local man had stopped about 50m down the road and Mr Tilly went and asked if he could get a local mechanic to help.

When Mr Tilly got back to his car, the smoking had increased and was coming inside the car on the passenger's side.

He ran to the back of the car, got a water bottle and started squirting at the smoke inside the car, even though there were no flames.

"I went to the back of the car and ripped the car mat and tools out the back."

Smoke had started billowing from the bonnet and he grabbed his cell phone and wallet off the front seat and got out before the flames started.

"It burnt pretty intensely and pretty quickly."

Mr Tilly said vegetation control workers from the forest arrived with a tank of water and started spraying the bush to make sure it didn't catch fire. The car fire was too intense for them to tackle.

Mr Tilly had mixed feelings waiting for the fire trucks from Omapere and Dargaville.

"It was quite saddening, I was a bit worried about the forest, a bit worried people were too close, it was shocked amazement."

All that was left of the vehicle was a charred frame.

Mr Tilly said he had owned the vehicle for around three years and "it was the first time we've ever had any problem" with it. It was fully insured.

He had no idea what had caused the fire.