Firefighters are still at a major blaze that came within metres of destroying a home, forced the evacuation of at least a dozen properties, and closed a state highway for several hours.
Fire authorities believe it was caused by "an act of blatant stupidity".
The fire started about 12.40pm yesterday in scrub next to a pine forest and behind a row of about 20 homes along State Highway 12, next to Kaikohe cemetery, west of Ngawha.
The highway was closed at Ohaeawai, with a second road block at Ngawha Springs Rd and at Te Pua Rd just outside Kaikohe.
Police told residents closest to the fire to leave their homes and remove their vehicles. Most gathered on a hilltop near the cemetery to nervously wait as four helicopters, filling monsoon buckets from farm dams and effluent ponds, dumped load after load of water on the flames.
At its height, the fire was just 10m from the home of Ed Wihongi. He was away but his dog and cattle were at the property. A fire appliance was stationed next to his home to protect it.
Tracey Albert was acting as Santa at an Ohaeawai-Taiamai Residents Association Christmas party when her cousin texted, asking if she liked her steak barbecued. He advised her to go home to rescue her horse, which was in a paddock behind the family homestead.
Ms Albert ditched her Santa costume and raced home but was not allowed on to the property. Fortunately, her horse, which was cowering in a corner furthest from the fire, appeared unharmed.
Cynthia Stevens was one of many residents who called 111 and said she was very worried. "Anyone would be," she said. The house was full of memories - she had lived there 60 years - and it had just been reroofed.
Another resident said he heard a loud whoosh, like a skyrocket going off, just before the fire started.
A man, who did not want to be named, said he had been accused of letting off a flare. He believed the fire had been started by a lightning strike.
About 3.20pm, a large bulldozer and two diggers started carving out a firebreak behind the houses. At about 4pm, the fire was contained and three of the four helicopters were stood down.
Northern principal rural fire officer Myles Taylor said it could be days before the fire was fully under control.
Firefighters would stay at the scene tonight and spend the next few days mopping up and extinguishing hot spots.
It was fortunate the wind was blowing towards the road and not towards Ngawha Prison, where it could have forced a major evacuation.
Corrections staff were among those keeping an eye on the blaze.
Mr Taylor said the fire covered an area of about 6ha. Only about 0.5ha of pine forest was lost thanks to the efforts of helicopter crews from Paihia and Whangarei. Kaikohe, Okaihau and Kerikeri fire brigades helped on the ground, as did Kaikohe rural firefighters.
People were still ignoring the fire danger, Mr Taylor said. The rain of recent weeks had done little to reduce that risk.
Sergeant Dan Williams, of Kaikohe police, said there was no firm suspect for the fire as yet but police were "pursuing a few lines of inquiry".
Fire restrictions have been in force across the Far North since October 22.