Kaitaia Fire Brigade's deputy Chief Fire Officer knew a house fire in Foley St on Sunday night was a substantial one before he even reached the station.

"I could see a pall of black smoke from Puckey Ave. It was like a volcano," Ross Beddows said.

The house was burning from end to end by the time the first fire engine arrived, seven minutes after the alarm was raised at 9.08pm, giving the crews no hope of saving it.

Four Kaitaia appliances, including the water tanker and a machine that was turned back at Awanui after responding to a single-vehicle crash at Paua, and one from Ahipara attended, but could do nothing to save the house.

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It was still standing by the time the fire was extinguished but the interior was gutted. A 4WD vehicle in the carport was damaged by heat and flames. The occupants were not at home when the crews arrived.

Beddows said the tanker was called when the nearest fire hydrant failed, and efforts to find one in Lake Rd were hampered by vegetation.

"We did have our water problems," he said, "but it didn't make any difference to the outcome. There was nothing we could have done to save it."

A fire investigation officer was at the scene.

Late on Sunday morning the brigade responded to a vegetation fire under pine trees near Waiharara. Had the wind turned the flames could have spread into scrub, Beddows said, but it turned out to be "fairly minor".

It was not clear how the fire started, but he believed it had been lit deliberately.