The decision to leave hot ashes in a cardboard box nearly proved disastrous for a Northland family, who were alerted by smoke alarms.

Firefighters were called to a house fire on Tana Rd, off State Highway 12 in Ruawai, about 3am yesterday and upon arrival found a couple and two children standing outside their single-storey house.

Ruawai fire chief Kevin Evans said it was yet another callout where a family had been saved by smoke alarms.

He said a woman living in the house emptied ashes from the fireplace into a cardboard box on Saturday morning and left it on the wooden floor of the lounge.

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"The hot ashes sat in the box whole day on Saturday and not just burnt the bottom of the box but also a hole in the floor. Luckily, there was nothing surrounding the cardboard box.

"There was a couch about a metre away and fortunately a smoke alarm in the lounge that alerted them and the family managed to promptly get out of the house," Evans said.

He said the woman extinguished the fire with a jug of water before emergency services were called.

"It's a timely reminder that smoke alarms save lives. It's also a timely reminder to treat ashes with great care. People think just because they've been left to cool down for a significant period of time that it should be safe but it's not."

Evans has also advised people to use a steel bucket to put hot ashes into rather than cardboard boxes or things that could burn easily.

Northland homes were among the first to receive free fire alarms during a safety campaign to coincide with the beginning of daylight saving last October.