An elderly man described by neighbours as a "friendly chatter box" died in a fire that destroyed his two-storey home in Foxton Beach during the early hours of Sunday morning.
Roore St resident Kaile August was the first to discover the fire, which woke him at 5.45am with what he described as noises sounding like a group of people mucking about outside.
He got up to take a look and saw flames in the reflection of a neighbour's windows.
After calling 111 he rushed outside to find the top story of this neighbour's house engulfed in flames.
Mr August said a person arrived, screaming out to the occupant by name, which was when he realised there was someone inside. He tried to get into the house but was beaten back by the ferocity of the heat.
"We couldn't help the guy. I tried getting in but it was too hot and the smoke was so heavy," he said.
"I had to hold a lady back who must have known the man quite well. She knew someone was in there."
August said it seemed like some time before emergency services arrived. He stood outside the home waiting, and watched as the heavy tiled roof caved in piece by piece.
"Once it had collapsed, flames were leaping out through the centre of the roof," he said.
The house was fully ablaze when fire services arrived, their hoses blowing holes right through the charred shell.
Mr August's landlord and neighbour Graeme Boys also witnessed the fire.
"We noticed [one of the occupants'] vehicle wasn't parked in its usual place, so we thought, 'right she is out', we were just hoping [the victim] was with her, but no one knew for sure," Mr Boys said.
"I've never seen that before, it was pretty horrific, something ... devastated so quickly."
Mr Boys described the fire as "fearsome", initially engulfing the second story of the home.
"There was quite a stiff south westerly wind at the time, quite nasty actually, it blew sparks far into the air towards other homes," he said.
Boys' rental house, next to the burning house, was at real risk of being next to catch fire, one side of the property blistered by the heat of the fire and the spouting partially melted.
"The flames were really leaping across towards our house, but the emergency services kept it wet," he said.
Boys said members of the local Maori community later came and blessed the burnt house.
Central Fire Services shift manager Murray Dunbar said the fire service was called at 5.51am to the fire with four crews attending.
"After it was extinguished the crew was alerted that there may have been someone inside, which they [later] confirmed."
Dunbar said a specialist fire investigator is looking into the cause of the fire.
The victim had not been named at the time of going to print, as next of kin were still being notified.