Firefighters were unable to save a house on Foreshore Rd, Ahipara, on Monday night, but did save the homes on both sides. One suffered some minor heat damage but the other was unscathed, despite being just metres from the blaze.

Ahipara's Chief Fire Officer, Dave Ross, said vegetation, including highly flammable pampas grass, on the steep bank immediately behind the house had been of great concern.

"The fire did get into the vegetation but we got on top of it pretty quickly," he said.

Crews from Ahipara, Kaitaia, Mangonui, Karikari and Broadwood fought the blaze, tankers and appliances ferrying water from a hydrant at the Ahipara fire station, more than a kilometre from the scene.

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The alarm was raised at 10.16pm on Monday, Ahipara remaining at the scene for a time after the Kaitaia crews returned to their station at around 1am. The remains of the house reignited, however, and crews returned at 5.13am. By the time they arrived the building was fully involved once again, the roof collapsing before it was brought under control.

The tenant and her two teenage children had escaped unharmed, Mr Ross said, adding that while he could not identify the cause of the fire he did not believe it was suspicious. The remains of the house were to be examined by a fire investigation officer on Tuesday.