There is a name on the lips of most everyone at an isolated community south of Ahipara. It's the name of a man seen close to places where fires have been deliberately lit.
And if he's not stopped, they claim, someone will die.
The Far North township seems at the mercy of a serial arsonist. Ahipara's volunteer fire brigade counts 14 suspicious fires since October.
Of those, five fires have destroyed baches along the coast to the south of Ahipara. That in itself is seen by some to point to the culprit.
They happened at low tide, because that's the only time it is possible to reach this remote paradise. There is no road to this isolated community, but a path that weaves its way along a reef exposed only when the water recedes.
They happened after midnight and before 3am. They were set in baches that weren't occupied. The finest ash at the burn sites is found just inside the front door, suggesting it burned first and longest just there.
James Herbert, 59, is sitting on a bench at the edge of a stretch of grass leading down to the beach. This is a place of which he has always been a part.
He was a baby in a flax kete as his grandmother gathered seaweed, a boy who followed her when he could walk. Life in Auckland began when his mother sought medical help the provinces couldn't provide, but even then he was drawn back to a place that has always been in his bones.
Finally, three years ago after his wife Laiha passed, he returned to live. Grandchildren come now - there's a gut he cut into the grass to create a safe place for them to play in the sand away from the cars that drive along the beach.
"It's not flash but it's all we've got," he says. "It's our castle."
And that's the case with others along the beach. When the last bach went up, the owner - like the others - was away.
"I didn't want to ring the owner because he was in hospital but better he heard it from us."
That's a phone call that can't be made from where Herbert is sitting. That's how remote it is. Mobile phone coverage starts to the North, between Herbert's place and Ahipara.
It's an isolation that underscores the community's vulnerability to whoever is setting fires. Help isn't just a phone call away. It's a drive up the beach to where reception begins. That's the first domino - the call then goes out to the volunteer firefighters, who roll out of bed and head for the station.
There's one four-wheel-drive fire engine, driven south until the road runs out and then onto the beach. Where the sand stops and the reef begins, there are three markers.
Shipwreck Bay is the first, says fire chief Dave Ross.
"If the water is sweeping through there, you won't get to The Gut." That's the point where the reef dips down and the path through narrows between cliffs on one side and the sea on the other.
In the dead of night there's no traffic to warn but the engine's beacons are kept flashing. The bone-jarring passage around the coast has the fire engine hugging the cliff in places and red lights atop help mark out the distance to the cliff. In places, it's barely a hand-span.
Ross: "If it's sweeping through The Gut, you won't get to Irongate." That's where the gradient eases away to the ocean, easier for the tide to make ground. Ask Ross how it is the Ahipara brigade even responds to a fire callout here, and he says: "As quickly as we can."
Even from there the passage isn't smooth. The beach is dotted with rocks - Tangaroa's speed bumps, Herbert says, invoking the son of earth and sky, the great god of the sea.
By the time help arrives, it's too late. "Can't do nothing by the time they get down here," says Herbert. "They're just totalled. And they can't do anything if the tide's coming in."
Along this coast, they've taken to jotting down the number plates of unfamiliar vehicles. There are inquiries with the Ahipara brigade over getting fire extinguishers. The ideal would be water tanks above the baches on low banks, but who would pay for that? Some along the coast have started spacing out where their dogs spend the night, better to catch a warning bark before the first smell of smoke.
If a fire is lit, then it will burn until it has nothing to feed on. It's such a long way out and the baches have little in the way of fire retardant, or much else demanded by the building code.
Herbert: "The thing we're thankful for is the baches they've been burning are all empty. One day, they're going to pick on the wrong bach. Someone will have come back and be sleeping in it. What happens then?"
Possibly murder. It may well be what began with one fire and turned into a streak of deliberately lit fires will become a homicide inquiry.
Those along the beach have a suspect. When they swap notes, they believe to have seen the same vehicle, the same face, at one fire after another. At the most recent bach fire, it was noticed that there were vehicle tracks. With earlier fires, the tracks were washed away. This time, locals followed the tracks to find the best, clearest impression in the sand. Photographs were taken and evidence was passed to police.
As Herbert says, "you can't do nothing if you can't prove it".
It's not like police aren't trying. They have heard the same name spoken around the beach.
That police are studying links between the fires was confirmed by Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Dalzell, who oversees and runs investigations in the Far North.
"Police believe that while not all of the fires are likely to be linked to the same offender, it's probable multiple incidents are linked to an individual."
Details are scant on exactly how the investigation is being carried out. Forensic investigators have been used at some of the fire scenes. Intelligence analysts have had a role. Other specifics - like whether the police have drawn on their criminal profiling expertise - have not been released, apparently to avoid jeopardising the investigation.
Again, distance might be creating its own challenges. Dalzell covers a huge area as criminal investigations manager. Profiling expertise is a long way south in Auckland. And this is a progressive crime - how do police judge the right way to match what appears to be the alleged offender's potential escalating intensity?
The first fire Dave Ross notes in the Ahipara fire station's logbook is a car fire on the road leading out to Ahipara. Then there was the bowling club in Kaitaia - twice. The first fire in October may have been an electrical fault. It doesn't fit the pattern with four people asleep in a flat on the top floor at the time. The second fire in March does - the building was empty.
In December, the first bach burned. It was followed by a house fire in Kaitaia two days later, then a 26-hectare scrub fire a few ridges back from the baches along the coast. Then another scrub fire, this time at Mukurau Beach, right in that isolated community stretched along the coast.
On it goes. A car fire, another car fire, a two-storey house in Ahipara and close to the beach. That was the night an earthquake off Papua New Guinea sparked a tsunami alert along the coast.
Rangi Harawira lives on the opposite side of Kaka St to the burning house. He tried to help but his garden hose couldn't reach. "That's too close to home, obviously," he says.
Since then, bach after bach after bach has burned on the coast south of town.
It's no surprise locals are worried, says Dr Michael Edwards, a specialist in psychological profiling of serial arsonists. Edwards works for an Australia law enforcement agency, although he earned his qualifications through the University of Canterbury studying arsonists in New Zealand.
The distinctive pattern of behaviour with the Ahipara arsons fits the profile of a serial arsonist who, says Dr Edwards, will not stop lighting fires until they are caught.
"The concerning trend with the Ahipara arsons is that the magnitude will only get bigger and become more dangerous for the isolated community and the wider suburban Ahipara.
"There is the inherent potential for these arsons to get out of control very quickly and escalate to the worst-case scenario - serious injuries to fatalities".
Edwards' masters thesis describes six types of arsonist: those who set fires out of revenge, those who seek excitement, those wanting to commit vandalism, those seeking profit, those trying to hide another crime, and the extremist. The most common is the revenge-seeker. FBI research indicates that serial arsonists may set up to 31 fires until they are eventually caught.
Identifying arson motives, he says, does not establish or support the elements of the offence, but rather it provides a clearer picture of who may be responsible: the "why" leads to the "who".
This is the type of thinking happening along the coast where the baches have burned, where people gather in Ahipara, inside the town's active and tired volunteer fire crew.
There was the destruction of pou along the coast - the marker poles that were cut down and sawn up. Is it telling that the heads of the pou were taken?
There's the timing of land returned to Te Rarawa, under way for almost a decade but with a significant and formal milestone in December. Like all land settlements, history was contested. Has someone conceived a grudge out of how the cards fell?
Not really our job, Ross says. The brigade's role is putting out fires, or racing to vehicle accidents, or pretty much anything where the Ahipara community is on one side and disaster lies on the other. Out here, they aren't just the first responders. They are the response.
When it comes to investigation, Ross says that's for police. And then he squats at a burned shack and points to the finer ash where the front door once was, and how the foundation poles are charred more at one side of the bach than the other.
"Firefighting can be a bit onerous," he says. "One of the things I like is the investigation. My wife says it's because I'm an engineer. It's the problem-solving."
Many have become amateur investigators. Police are calling for information but there's as much of that as there is rumour and speculation buzzing about the coast.
"It's somebody who knows the beach. We're trying to figure out why," says Herbert. They know how to navigate their way around the coast, they know to drive close to the tide so vehicle tracks are washed away, they have some reason to target this isolated, private community.
"We've got a couple of names but no proof. You can't do anything."
Such is the anxiety and interest along the coast, Herbert predicts the "beach will be empty" if someone is arrested as people flood into town to the courthouse.
"We really hope this person or people will get caught. One day someone is going to come home for a sleep and [the arsonist] won't realise there's someone in there.
"All hell is going to break then."