Far North Mayor John Carter says the fire in Ahipara, which forced the evacuation of about 100 houses last night, is a warning about just how dry Northland is.
"This is a warning to us. Fortunately we've got away without loss of life, loss of property or injury, but every resident and every visitor to Northland has a responsibility to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again. It's a massive warning."
The fire has burnt through 56ha of scrub and native bush.
Incident controller Rory Renwick, a Fire and Emergency NZ (Fenz) wildfire specialist, said the blaze was now 95 per cent contained with no significant growth.
The number of choppers in use had been reduced from six to three. Some would remain on standby while others would be released as the day went on.
About 25 people - a mix of Fenz, forestry and DoC crews - were fighting the fire on the ground.
"It's quiet at the moment and we have the upper hand, but the wind will rise later in the day, the temperature will rise and the humidity will drop. That will be against us," said Renwick.
"With the weather forecast, if it does get away we can expect some extreme fire behaviour, which means very high rates of spread and intensities that are difficult to control. In some places we may mot be able to stop it. That's why we have the area cleared of people."
Renwick said he expected firefighters would be "chasing hot spots" for several days.
The cause of the fire was being investigated but if anyone had information about how the fire started Renwick urged them to call police on 105 or Fire and Emergency on 09 486 7949.
Six helicopters were up at first light to try and control the blaze that was burning through a block of land measuring one square kilometre, according to Fenz northern shift manager Kaisey Cook. Forty firefighters were fighting the fire on the ground.
Fresh ground crews were sent in at 8.30am to start the long and dirty job of fully extinguishing the blaze.
A decision about when to allow residents back to their homes is expected later this morning. Foreshore Rd remains closed.
Charred scrub, marking the furthest reach of the fire, descends the hills behind Ahipara to within a few metres of one home off Foreshore Rd. Two other baches had an extremely close call.
According to Carter no properties were thought to have been destroyed overnight and no one was injured.
Phelan Pirrie is a Muriwai firefighter who was holidaying in a caravan on his section in Ahipara. He had brought his firefighting gear just in case he'd be able to help out but didn't expect anything on this scale.
"The flames were 10m-plus high. When the scrub gets to a certain temperature it goes white-hot and explodes. The sound is like a jet engine. We had a few small fire tornadoes going on too. It was insane."
Evacuations began yesterday, when some locals were warned they had 10 minutes to leave their homes. Residents were taken to two emergency welfare centres at a nearby marae and rugby club.
By the time Tessa Pohio and her family evacuated their home at Ahipara, there was ash falling around the house and flames along the top of the ridgeline.
Firefighters had warned them earlier that they wouldn't have much time to leave if evacuations were needed.
"The kids were scared but for us it was exciting, we all went down to the beach to watch," Pohio said.
But it "got serious" when a firefighter told them: "You're not being evacuated right now, but if you do, you'll have only 10 minutes to get out."
About 20 minutes later they got the word to leave.
They had to leave dinner behind - crayfish, kahawai and two legs of lamb half-done on the barbecue.
They spent the night at Roma Marae.
For 9-year-old Macie Abley-Marsh, the fire was exciting at first.
"But when they told us to evacuate I started getting scared."
The fire started at 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.
Mayor Carter said evacuation centres were set up, one at the Ahipara Rugby Club and another at Roma Marae, where evacuees spent the night.
About 20 adults and 10 children, some in PJs and clutching cuddly toys, were at Ahipara Rugby Club at 10.30pm on Tuesday.
A band of volunteers, many associated with the club, prepared food for evacuees, while
members of Te Rarawa, the local iwi, headed to the club with fruit and vegetables from their market gardens.
Carter said when helicopters were stood down last night, when it became too dark for them to work, the fire was still spreading.
As the flames pushed towards the village, there was a risk homes could be destroyed.
By Tuesday night, the fire had grown to 2km wide in size, he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Dave Clark, who has a section on Wharo Way, said firefighters made sure everyone was removed from the area.
Clark described the fire, which was mostly burning through native bush, as massive and said he had never seen anything like it before.
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 way away but the flames looked like they were probably 30m, 40m in the air."
Local resident Teuri Reihana 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."