A sacred site harking back to one of New Zealand's earliest epidemics is in the zone of the Northland wetlands blaze that is proving a complex and challenging battle for firefighters.
The existence of Motutangi in the Kaimaumau wetlands and other places important to Te Iwi o NgāiTakoto has added another layer of complexity to a fight already rich with the complication of trying to preserve endangered flora and fauna.
Given the heavy and hot work fighting the 2400 hectare fire, the need to navigate around and through culturally and environmentally precious zones evokes images of a bull delicately weaving its way through a china shop.
There are nine earthmoving machines, 64 firefighters with spades and other firebreak-making gear and helicopters dropping water on a fire that may smoulder in peat long after the main blaze is defeated.
The fire started on December 18 near Waiharara, north of Kaitaia, and has twice seen the coastal settlement of Kaimaumau evacuated.
Fire incident controller Nigel Dravitzki, 57, said the logistics of fighting the fire required close contact with conservation and iwi representatives to manage pressures particular to the location.
That included shifting and variable winds on a part of the country that stretched long and thin, bringing intensely localised weather conditions.
"It can change in the blink of an eye," said Dravitzki.
The impact was noted again today when overnight rain fell lightly on some areas and not at all on others nearby - and did little to douse the fire.
The nature of coastal wetlands, too, meant there was a large amount of dry and flammable fuel for the fire, compounded by the prevalence of peat which can burn underground, and hold and keep heat for years.
"Peat fires are known all over the world for their difficulty in putting out," said Dravitzki.
The area of the fire is the equivalent of 2400 football fields and had a perimeter of 44km. Dravitzki's experience includes stints fighting fires overseas, as does a number of those who have come to fight it, where this blaze would be considered small.
In New Zealand terms, though, it was large and had so far seen 300 people rotating through to fight it for the 22 days it has so far burned.
Those who have come begin their days with a 7am briefing and breakfast, returning to base about 6pm having spent much of the day clad in heavy firefighting protective gear doing hard physical work in temperatures close to 30C.
Much of the work is building fire breaks. "Just putting water on the top of peat does not put it out. You have to dig down and hard. When you think you've dug deep enough, you have to dig a little bit deeper."
During that time, they work to recognise signs of cultural and environmental treasures that require conservation or iwi consultation. While it's "rugged" work, teams had fought to preserve where they can and efforts to do so "hasn't impacted our ground operations", said Dravitzki.
Former MP Shane Jones, whose roots include NgaiTakoto, grew up around Awanui to the south and was raised on stories of Motutangi in the wetlands.
"The fire has burned all around Motutangi."
Jones said the location was sacred as the site where the survivors of an 1830s epidemic retreated from the epidemic, farewelled those lost and then left to escape a disease that killed many.
The mate uruta - epidemic - was one of the first waves of disease traced to European arrival. How it worked its way into the indigenous population was unknown but Jones said it was a time when young Maori men who worked whaling ships came back sick with introduced illnesses.
The impact was clear when taught genealogy, said Jones. "Entire hapu were wiped out. They had no immunity."
Lesley McCormick, 63, runs Reef Lodge across the mouth of the Rangaunu Harbour where the spiral of smoke to the sky has been a constant feature over the past month.
In that time, they've had a few days where the smoke has blown her way while prevailing weather patterns generally see it pushed out to sea.
"It's not billowing up like it has done in the past but there is still a cloud over it. You do see flare-ups. It's been spectacular - but really scary."