Five Far North families are bracing themselves for a possible second evacuation this evening as a huge fire continues to burn on the Karikari Peninsula.
The blaze started about 5.30pm on Thursday when a car demolished a power pole, dropping power lines onto tinder-dry scrub.
By late this afternoon it had spread across 130ha and was still not fully under control.
Even seasoned firefighters were shocked by the speed and intensity of the fire, easily the biggest so far this summer.
Firefighters expect to have it contained by nightfall and to spend at least the next week extinguishing hotspots.
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The car which started it all had been travelling north on Inland Rd when it apparently crossed the centre line, struck a concrete pole at the corner of Ramp Rd, rolled and came to rest on its wheels about 50m away.
The female driver and sole occupant was taken to Kaitaia Hospital by ambulance with what police believed was a non-life-threatening head injury.
The Mangonui Fire Brigade was called to rescue the woman and put out the fire sparked by the downed power lines, but quickly had to call for backup.
They were joined by fire crews from Kaitaia, Karikari, Houhora, Rangiputa and Kaeo, while three helicopters fought the flames from the air until it was too dark to fly.
Six houses at the Tokerau Beach end of Ramp Rd were threatened by flames as they advanced eastwards around Lake Rotopotaka, also known as Coca Cola Lake.
The five families at home at the time were evacuated. Fire crews used heavy machinery to cut a firebreak around the house closest to the fire.
People staying in campervans in a freedom camping area on Ramp Rd were also evacuated.
Residents returned this morning when the threat receded but were warned to have their bags packed for a possible second evacuation this afternoon as the fire approached again, this time along the dunes from the south.
Four helicopters from Paihia and Whangārei resumed flying at 5.45am today, filling their monsoon buckets from Lake Rotopotaka. They are expected to work until dusk.
Today's ground effort was by 20 firefighters from Far North Roading's forestry division backed up by a Karikari rural fire crew. A mobile command centre was set up on Inland Rd.
Northland principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor said the fire's rapid increase and spread was ''extraordinary''.
''We haven't seen anything like it in Northland for a long time. Whatever we threw at it, it just kept going. It was a monster and it was hungry. It kept us on our toes all night.''
Taylor said he was in awe of the response of volunteer firefighters, especially from the Mangonui, Karikari and Kaitaia brigades.
They had gone home and gone to bed around 2am only to be woken up again 15 minutes later when the blaze flared up again.
''The incredible and totally selfless effort they put in saved at least six houses. I didn't hear a single complaint, they just knuckled down and knew what they had to do. It's hugely humbling.''
Among those evacuated on Thursday evening was Alex Simeti, who lives in the house most in danger.
He had been showing overseas visitors Lake Rotopotaka when they saw the fire start on the far side about 5.30pm.
''Then we saw it raging up the side of the lake towards us and we knew it was time to go. When we got back to the house fire staff were already there. They told us to get our belongings and evacuate,'' Simeti said.
''We were out of there in five or 10 minutes. They'd surrounded out house with trucks and a tanker and set up a portable dam by the time we left. The fire went all night, it was pretty crazy,'' he said.
Fire and Emergency NZ Muriwhenua area commander Wipari Henwood said Ramp Rd residents had been warned to have their bags packed and be ready to evacuate again this afternoon.
He hoped the blaze would be under control by nightfall.
''If there's no outbreaks we'll have the majority of it nailed and contained tonight, but then we'll be here for another one to two weeks doing the mop up.''
The blaze was a reminder of how quickly a serious fire could develop in the current extreme conditions, he said.