Christmas is a time for festivities, laughter, love and cooking disasters - at least, in my family it is - especially if one accidentally sets the lawn on fire with a blazing Christmas cake.

Growing up in our household has been described by many as something you'd see in a sitcom, especially when it comes to my mother's cooking.

In 1994, myself, my older brother and my father were subjected to many of her unwanted, yet enthusiastic cooking experiments, but the Christmas cake was a stand-out.

One of our neighbours was a connoisseur in the art of baking and offered some of her genius to mum, which involved cooking a Christmas cake in a cardboard box - which apparently enhances the flavour.


Mum got to work, placing her 4-year-old daughter (me) outside on the lawn that had turned to straw, as Central Hawke's Bay dealt with its standard hot, dry summer day.

She got the bones of the recipe right, apart from the most important part - the oven's temperature.

While waiting for her creation to come to life, she called my grandmother to proudly share her latest experiment.

About 20 minutes in, she noticed a faint orange glow coming from our oven and told my grandmother to hold on while she went to investigate.

Gingerly opening the door the rush of oxygen caused a minor explosion in the oven, resulting in my mother pulling on her oven mitts, seizing the blazing cake and tossing it out the kitchen door.

The fire took an instant liking to what was left of our lawn and in one giant "whoosh" it was turned to a small wasteland.

I was running to and from the water trough with a tiny cup of water tossing what I could on to the remaining flames as my mother beat the flaming lawn with a broom, which also caught fire.

Grandmother was still on the phone listening in and my father also arrived after a tough day's work on the farm, to a black lawn, a singed broom lying in the water trough and his beaming 4-year-old covered in black smuts.

Our family's not the only ones with a holiday fire memory.

National adviser for Fire Risk Management for Fire and Emergency New Zealand, Peter Gallagher has had his fair share of festive callouts over the years.

"I've been to a few calls like that, but also people who try to cook Christmas cakes in the microwave and set the timer for 10 hours instead of 10 minutes. They come home and find their house full of smoke with the fire brigade outside.

"We've had to rescue a few cats that have been locked in the house after families have gone on holiday, not to mention a dog who took a burning stick from a bonfire and set fire to his kennel."

Gallagher said as families got together and hosted more people than usual, extra caution was a must.

"Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in every room, be vigilant when cooking and when using the barbecue, make sure it's well away from the house.

"People will be letting off fireworks too, but don't do it if conditions are windy and check for fire restrictions in your local area."