It's business as usual for award-winning Napier seafront restaurant Pacifica after a suspicious courtyard fire which could have threatened to destroy the business and famous neighbouring wooden earthquake survivors the Six Sisters.

Restaurant manager Natalie Bulman confirmed there was no damage to the single-storey restaurant.

It is separated by only a narrow alley from the Six Sisters Coffee House, the southernmost of the row of six two-storey now commercial premises. These were built more than a century ago and designed by immigrant architect and engineer Robert Lamb for a client who wanted homes for each of his six daughters.

They all back on to the Rebel Sport carpark and service lane, where the fire was reported to Fire and Emergency New Zealand at 7.38am on Monday as it apparently spread from a wheelie bin to the fencing at the rear of the restaurant courtyard.

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It near-destroyed a wall and melted part of a shade cover over which neighbours sprayed water to stop the fire spreading to the wooden buildings.

The restaurant generally opens 6pm to late Tuesday to Saturday and Bulman and partner and chef Jeremy Rameka were out of town when they received a phone call saying "the restaurant is on fire."

First impressions were deceiving and the couple were already on their three-hour drive back to Napier when they were told the fire had been confined mainly to the fence, and there was no damage to the restaurant.

Bulman said a coffee house employee noticed the fire as she arrived at work 20 minutes early.

"She was one of the first to see it, and she said that when she first saw it was little more than smouldering," Bulman said.

The woman went inside to call the fire service and was surprised by the rapid spread of the fire by the time she emerged barely a minute later.

Neighbours sprayed the canopy, and the fire was soon contained. Bulman said: "It was lucky we have pretty on to it neighbours. My understanding is the first guys (firefighters) turned up pretty quickly. If they hadn't sprayed down the canopy it would have been worse."

The couple have not had any fires on the premises in which they've operated the restaurant for 13 years, and are sure there was no "malice".

Yesterday Detective Todd Lee said police were still investigating the blaze and there had been no arrests.