Flames damaged the exterior of the back wall of a house in Southey St, Awanui, on Saturday morning but it could have been a great deal worse.

The occupant was at work when smoke was noticed by some tourists from the main road. When they found no one at home they alerted the neighbours, who tackled it with a garden hose.

"They did a brilliant job," Kaitaia Fire Brigade deputy Chief Fire Officer Ross Beddows said. "By that stage the flames were getting into the eaves, and it would not have taken long to start doing major damage."

The initial suspicion was that the blaze had been started by an electrical fault in a water pump under the house, but, after talking to the owner, the cause seemed more likely to have been smouldering cigarette butts from ashtrays that she had emptied into a container at the back door.

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There was little for firefighters to do, however, apart from ensuring that the fire wasn't going to re-ignite and blowing smoke out of the house.

Meanwhile a motorbike accident on SH10 at Kaingaroa on Christmas Day took the Kaitaia Fire Brigade to 400 calls for the year, the first time that mark has been reached. As of noon yesterday that had risen to 405, Mr Beddows saying he would be quite happy if it "stalled" there.

The motorbike crash resulted in relatively minor injuries for both the rider and pillion passenger.