A Northland house in the process of being sold has been destroyed by fire.

The 96-year-old house in Valley Rd, Hikurangi, 15km north of Whangarei, was destroyed by the fire which started about 12.30am yesterday.

Hikurangi volunteer firefighters were quick to respond and motorists who noticed the fire started hosing down a neighbouring house less than 10m away, which was about to ignite.

The owner of the house, Dave Griffin, was on night shift at Marsden Point Refinery when he was delivered the news that his home was on fire.


He had lived in the house for 12 years but had sold it, and settlement was due next Friday. The buyer had already paid a deposit.

"I'm already to move out ... all my stuff is in storage," Mr Griffin said as he surveyed the charred remains.

He stayed with his daughter before looking at the damage in the daylight yesterday morning.

He said his grandson was staying with him but fortunately he was with his grandfather overnight.

A neighbour across the road, Sydina Curtis, said she initially thought the home of 84-year-old Lesley Wedge was on fire.

The St John volunteer rang 111 and raced across the road, banging on the window to wake the elderly resident.

"I thought, I just have to get her out of there. I could feel the heat," Ms Curtis said. "I thought I was going to have to smash the window. She opened the curtains and I yelled at her she had to get out."

Recalling the events, Mrs Wedge said she stopped to put in her hearing aids, and collect her dressing gown and slippers, before going outside.

The heat from the fire melted the spouting on her house and the paint blistered on the weatherboard home.

"It made for a bit of excitement."

Fire investigator Craig Bain said the likely cause of the blaze was an electrical fault due to rats.

"There was talk of rodents in the ceiling. So if you hear sounds of scurrying in the ceiling, first get a pest exterminator to sort them out and then get in an electrician to sort out your wiring," Mr Bain said.

He was going to request that the council knock over the structure for safety reasons.

Real-estate agent Valerie Hanger, from Professionals, said there were precedents in such a case and a full sale and purchase agreement had protections in to cover such a scenario.

Ms Hanger said as the settlement date had not been set, the property was still the responsibility of the seller and his insurance company.

If the property was deemed unlivable on settlement date, there would be two options.

The buyer could agree with the owner to still buy the property at a price equivalent to the original agreed sale price, minus the value of the insurance payout. Or the buyer could cancel the agreement and get their full deposit back.

Ms Hanger said that in her 22 years as a real-estate agent this was the first time she had known a house to burn down between the time of the deposit being paid and the settlement date.