Dozens of residents have been evacuated from their homes tonight as a fire burns through scrub in the Far North, with fears homes could be destroyed by the blaze if winds continue.
The fire started about 5.45pm in Ahipara Gumfields Historic Reserve and quickly spread through dry scrub despite the best efforts of multiple crews and six helicopters.
Residents reported seeing flames as high as 40m as the blaze crept through scrub and towards homes.
About 40 properties on Reef View and Wharo Way were evacuated by police as a safety precaution.
Mayor John Carter tonight told the Herald helicopters had been stood down - they can't work in the dark - and it was difficult to know what the fire would do overnight.
If the wind kept pushing the flames towards the village, there was a risk homes could be destroyed.
"The unfortunate consequence ... is that the fire is still spreading."
The fire had grown from an estimated 1.5km to 2km wide in size, he said.
Helicopters will return to work at first light Wednesday morning and fire engines will be on standby in case buildings needed to be protected, he said.
He described the scene as "pretty horrendous" and said some residents were apprehensive about leaving their homes.
"Some didn't want to evacuate, understandably, they wanted to be there to try and protect their homes. There is a ... great deal of anxiety and concern."
Carter said two evacuation centres had been set up - at the local rugby club and marae - to help anyone in need.
About 20 adults and 10 children, some in PJs and clutching cuddly toys, are at Ahipara Rugby Club at 10.30pm on Tuesday.
A band of volunteers, many associated with the club, are preparing food.
Members of Te Rarawa, the local iwi, are on their way with fruit and vegetables from their market gardens, while Civil Defence is on the way with mattresses.
Club volunteers are waiting to hear whether the campground at Te Kohanga (Shipwreck Bay) will be evacuated. If it is, that will bring another 200 people.
Dave Clark, who has a section on Wharo Way, said firefighters made sure everyone was removed from the area.
The fire was burning towards the top of the hill behind them but it appeared to be spreading downwards towards the coast.
Clark described the fire, which was mostly burning through native bush, as massive and said he had never seen anything like it before.
Clark said helicopters were picking up water from the ocean and dumping it on the fire. He said there hadn't been much rain in the area recently and conditions were pretty dry.
Another resident, Justin Edgecombe, said the fire was being fuelled by strong winds.
"It's a massive, big scrub fire coming over the hill from behind [Ahipara]," he told the Herald.
"Where I was looking at it, I was a long away but the flames looked likely there were probably 30m, 40m in the air."
Local resident Teuri Reihana, who filmed the fire from the beach earlier in the evening, said smoke from the fire was "extremely thick".
"It's one of the biggest fires I have seen up here.
"It was so thick you couldn't see the mountain which was only 400m away."
Reihana said it showed no signs of slowing down and remained visible later in the evening.
"I live two kilometres away and I can see the flames clearly from my house."
Additional reporting: Peter de Graaf and Julia Gabel