As large flames burned metres from their homes, Tauranga residents desperately fought to save their properties while one fled on foot carrying a baby and another donned a gas mask.
A fire measuring 1sq km consumed scrub and mangroves at Windermere yesterday afternoon, forcing emergency services to shut down streets and deploy a helicopter with a monsoon bucket.
A resident who would only be known as Stuart was one of the first to call 111.
"They were like, 'Yeah, we'll send a truck' but I said 'Nah, nah, you will need more than just one'.
"It started off small. I didn't think much of it. We were actually getting ready to head out then the smoke became a lot bigger, then it started shifting. The thing that saved us was the wind direction."
Close to 40 firefighters responded after being alerted to the fire at 1.40pm. By about 3pm, a helicopter with a monsoon bucket arrived and the fire had grown to 1sq km.
The fire crept within 200m of Stuart's home before swiftly changing course.
"We could hear the crackling of the flames, and see the flames."
Stuart was one of several residents who began hosing down his property in a desperate attempt to protect it.
"I'm from Australia and I've seen bush fires on the ridgeline but you never expect it at your house here, like this. It was pretty intense."
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Resident Cynthia Ngawaka said all the neighbours had come out of their houses smelling smoke before noticing the fire, which spread rapidly.
"When we got back home the smoke was really thick. It's quite a sight to behold when you have a line of flames like that. It's like that licking type of flame too."
She said the fire was burning the mangroves and was moving too fast for firefighters on foot.
"We can't dramatise it because of what's happening in Australia, but it's scary."
Janet Hodgson was babysitting her infant granddaughter when she suddenly caught a whiff of smoke through the window.
"I thought 'Oh, that's quite a big fire' so I rang 105 and there was no answer," she said.
So she rang 111 instead - to be told it was a "controlled burnoff".
Hodgson couldn't see the fire from where she was but said there was a lot of "orangey, thick smoke".
Windermere Drive resident Monique Heke said she heard there was a fire at the Toi Ohomai campus but realised the blaze had spread to a gully behind her home.
She said it was "a bit close for comfort" but firefighters soon had it under control despite the wind fanning it on.
A Windermere Drive resident, who would only be known as Brendan, said the fire was being spread behind houses by the wind.
Another resident said the conditions were very dry and the fire was a scary reminder of why this was dangerous.
The Western Bay of Plenty's fire risk for scrub is currently extreme. The risk in grass areas is moderate, and in forest areas it is high in Minden and Waihi Beach and moderate elsewhere.
MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said a southeasterly breeze had been recorded for Tauranga, reaching gusts of up to 43km/h yesterday.
"Unfortunately there is no rain on the way for the area or at the weekend," he said.
The cause of the fire is yet to be determined. Firefighters were still at the scene when this story went to print.
'It was like snowing ash and burning leaves all over us'
One moment Melissa Ryder thought she could smell a neighbour's cooking, the next she was being covered in burning leaves and ash.
Ryder had been in her Windermere Drive sleepout yesterday afternoon when she thought someone must have been cooking nearby.
"Ten minutes later the owners [of the house] came out saying 'Come look at this' and it was the fire.
"It actually started at the back of our house in the gully," she said.
"It made its way across the whole gully and down ... It really kicked off. It was pretty scary because we didn't know at first if it was going to come to us."
Ryder said the fire came as close as 50m to their home.
"There were trees and smoke everywhere and I could see the flames. It was like snowing ash and burning leaves all over us."
The smoke became so thick, Ryder grabbed her gas mask from her sleepout, which she had been in the process of plastering.
She was grateful to firefighters who brought the fire under control and helped save their home.
Ryder was concerned for houses and people further down the gully, as the fire continued to burn last night.
Additional reporting - Esme O'Rafferty