A Whangārei man has been forced out of his home of more than 15 years after suspected arson decimated the ground floor of his house.
The Northern Advocate spoke to residents who did not want to identify the man - who the paper has approached for comment - or themselves due to the ongoing police investigation. A young person will be appearing before the Whangārei Youth Court in relation to suspected arson following the fire.
Neighbours described the man as the "most caring person" and spoke about their devastation at him losing his Kamo home after a blaze destroyed his downstairs garage on Friday night.
"It is just heartbreaking. He is the kindest and most caring person. He comes and mows everyone's lawns," a long-time neighbour said. "That's just the kind of person he is - will do anything to help anyone," one neighbour said.
While the man lives alone - except for the company of this three cats which he can often be heard talking sweetly to - neighbours said he felt like an "uncle to everybody".
"He is always siting on the back porch and if visitors come he will say hi to them. He talks to everybody around here," another said.
They described watching the 53-year-old return to his charred home with the scent of smoke still thick in the air.
"He said to me he felt lost. It's not the same for us not seeing him outside or around here."
Neighbours said the man spoke about the home's electric service panel being irreparable and the potential for the second storey floor to cave in due to damage.
Neighbours were sitting inside their home on Friday when one of them glanced out the living room window and noticed flames on the wooden steps at the backdoor of the man's house.
Without hesitating one of them ran outside - jumping wooden fences on his way - to extinguish the small fire before noticing a larger blaze in the garage.
"You could see the flames through the windows. When we saw the fires I rang the fire department straight away."
The neighbour then leapt another wooden fence to alert the tenant of a house close to the blaze.
"He said the garage was on fire. I came outside to check and was like 'oh my God' - it's really on fire," the woman said. "If we were all asleep it would've been way worse."
The occupant of the targeted home was visiting his mother at the time of the fire, a resident said.
The resident who made the 111 call was told by the fire brigade if she hadn't made the call when she did the entire house would have been engulfed by flames.
Two fire engines were at the scene attempting to douse the flames, while police were managing traffic and keeping bystanders at a distance.
"I saw the firefighters smash the side door as they were having trouble getting into the garage because they couldn't go through the roller door as it was too dangerous."
Firefighters were at the scene for around two hours.
A police spokesperson called for people with information about what happened or who witnessed anything suspicious in the area at the time to contact 105 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.