It had the potential to cause catastrophic damage, but the fire that broke out in a store room at Town and Country Food in Kaitaia's main street was quickly brought under control by two Kaitaia Fire Brigade crews.

The alarm was raised a little after 2pm on Monday, with diners fleeing the premises, many of them leaving half-eaten meals behind, as pungent smoke filled the dining area drifted out into the street.

Kaitaia Chief Fire Officer Colin Kitchen said the smoke was so thick that the seat of the fire could not be seen from the front door, but a second crew had more success from the rear.

The blaze was found to have done most damage to a large switchboard in a store room, although flames were getting into the ceiling, beneath the cafe owner's accommodation, by the time the firefighters went to work. It had been established before the brigade arrived that no one was on the floor above the cafe.


Mr Kitchen said he was confident that the fire had been caused by an electrical fault, adding that while the brigade had scored a "good save" and lives had not been at risk, there could have been a very different outcome if it had broken out at night.

The brigade set up a large fan to blow the last of the smoke out of the building once the fire was extinguished, but the smell was still lingering yesterday afternoon. Staff were busy cleaning up, the manager saying she was waiting for an insurance assessor to arrive and for power and water to be restored. She was unable to say how long it would be before the cafe would re-open.