A family of six have been left homeless just a week before Christmas after their house and decades of precious memories burnt to the ground.
Rebecca Picard and her family were enjoying a picnic in the sun at a community Christmas party in Te Akau last Saturday evening when fire trucks came screaming past.
"Santa usually comes to the Christmas party in a fire truck so the kids were worried he wouldn't be able to make it," Picard said.
The Waikato mum told her children Santa would find an alternative mode of transport, not knowing it was her family's home it was racing to.
"You never think it's your house," Picard told the Herald in tears.
More than an hour after the fire trucks flew by, Picard decided to take her youngest two children home to bed. As it was just a 10-minute drive away from the party. Her husband stayed for beer with a friend, while the two older children continued to play.
"I remember driving around the corner and my heart just sank. There were fire engines on the road and hoses everywhere. It was my house billowing with smoke.
"I said to the firemen 'how bad is it?' and he just looked at me and said 'yup it's really bad'," Picard said.
By the time fire crews got to the house it was too late.
"They said it was just a matter of ensuring it didn't turn into a bush fire."
Picard's engagement ring, her grandma's precious necklace that was gifted to her just last year, family photos and favourite teddy bears were among the items lost in the fire.
"You read about these sort of things and you think it must be devastating and horrible but that just didn't even begin to scratch the surface."
Neighbours were able to rescue their dog and cat.
The family have moved in with Picard's parents, who live nearby, and will stay there until they can find somewhere to rent.
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Picard said they have insurance but she didn't think it would be enough to cover their rent as well as their mortgage. They plan to rebuild their family home as soon as they can.
The message Picard wanted to share with New Zealanders was to make sure your smoke alarms are working.
"Make sure your photos [are] backed up on a file somewhere. Cherish your family and everything you have, because you never know when it's all going to [be] gone."
The family wanted to thank the community for all the love and support they have been given. They also wanted to credit the firefighters from Te Akau, Huntly, Ngaruawahia and Chartwell who gave up their time with their families and attempted to save their home.
The cause of the fire remains unknown.
A Givealittle page has been set up to support the family and has already raised $2226, as of 1pm Tuesday.
Despite their hardship, Picard said there were families more in need than them and encouraged New Zealanders to donate to charities such as Women's Refuge and the Salvation Army.