Instead of relaxing with family around the barbecue this Christmas some Northlanders will be immersed in mud and ash mopping up the region's biggest fire in at least a decade.
While the 2000ha Kaimaumau wetland fire is now contained and residents are back in their homes, the job of fully extinguishing the blaze is expected to take weeks of hot, physically demanding work.
On Thursday five ground crews — comprising 25 Department of Conservation and forestry firefighters — were continuing to dampen down hot spots where peat fires were burning underground.
They were assisted by five helicopters equipped with monsoon buckets and nine bulldozers and excavators which were continuing to reinforce firebreaks, especially along the northern side of the fire.
Also on Thursday firefighters conducted a controlled burn-off near Norton Rd.
A spokesperson for Fire and Emergency NZ said the operation to remove 15ha of unburnt vegetation would remove the risk of it becoming fuel and spreading the fire.
People living in the Kaimaumau and Waiharara areas were advised not to be alarmed if they saw smoke.
About 30 families evacuated from Kaimaumau village on Sunday evening were allowed to return home on Wednesday thanks to a change of wind direction.
Until then a gusty northerly wind had been blowing the flames towards the village, which is clustered around the edge of Rangaunu Harbour south of the wetland.
No homes were lost but on Sunday night the fire came to within 200m of some houses.
Firefighters will remain on site during Christmas and the New Year.
The fire started off Norton Rd on Saturday afternoon in an area where farmland has recently been converted into avocado orchards.