Kaimaumau residents are back in their homes after starting the New Year with an urgent evacuation ordered when flames jumped a firebreak near their village.
The Kaimaumau wetland fire, north of Kaitaia, has swept across 2370ha since December 18 but was largely contained until a wind shift on New Year's Day.
Firefighters were back-burning unburnt vegetation at the southern end of the wetland on Saturday morning when a strong northerly wind in the afternoon pushed the fire across a containment line near the beach and close to Kaimaumau.
Just after 2pm the village's roughly 30 families were told to grab a change of clothing and evacuate immediately to Waiharara School.
One firefighter was treated by St John Ambulance for smoke inhalation suffered during the breakout.
Fire and Emergency NZ incident controller John Sutton said fire crews supported by helicopters and heavy machinery tackled the breakout and widened firebreaks near the village.
Three helicopters had been operating in the morning but that was bumped up to six with more on standby.
Residents were able to return home around 8pm on Saturday.
Sunday's efforts focused on the area just north of Kaimaumau village as well as the western part of the fire ground ahead of a forecast change in wind direction that could push the fire back towards the northwest.
Sutton said five helicopters and four bulldozers and diggers were supporting 25 firefighters on Sunday. That would be increased to 40 on Monday.
The beach road north of the village had been closed and people should keep away from the beach between Kaimaumau and Houhora.
''The fire is still active in this area and we need people to stay well away for their own safety and to allow our crews to concentrate on the task,'' Sutton said.
Fire personnel had visited residents near the northwestern flank of the fire to make sure they were prepared to evacuate if the easterly wind change pushed the fire towards their properties.
The wind change would also blow more smoke towards populated areas of Houhora and Pukenui.
Anyone who is sensitive to smoke should stay inside with doors and windows shut or call Healthline on 0800 611 116 if they were suffering respiratory problems.
Kaimaumau residents were first evacuated on the night of December 19 and allowed to go home three days later.
Those who had to leave their homes at short notice on New Year's Day included Murray and Liz Henderson, who said they were impressed by the professionalism shown by emergency services during the evacuation.
''This is a difficult situation but everything's very organised, which is great,'' Murray Henderson said.
''Everyone involved has been very calm and collected which helps people not to stress.''
He hoped it wouldn't be like a similar fire in 2010 which burned for almost two months.
''But everything seems under control and the briefings have been clear and consistent, so we're not too worried.''
One positive which had come out of the fire was that it had brought the community together, he said.
The fire is believed to have been started by a burnoff on Norton Rd. A formal investigation is expected to begin once the blaze is fully under control.
The Kaimaumau wetland is — or was — Northland's largest surviving wetland and one of the region's most significant in terms of the threatened species such as geckos, native orchids and birds that called it home.
Even before the latest flare-up Forest & Bird Northland conservation manager Dean Baigent-Mercer called the fire ''a tragedy on a national scale''.
The wetland also contains a number of wāhi tapu or sites sacred to local hapū.