Terrence Riley was last seen by his brother just an hour before he perished in a fire that engulfed the old five-bedroom kauri farmhouse they grew up in.
Emergency services were called to the scene of the house fire at 6.54pm last night on Birdsall Rd in Whangateau, north of Auckland.
A neighbour living on the hill above the property spotted the fire and word eventually got to Audrey Sharp that her ex-brother in law was in trouble.
She told the Herald it was a terrible sight.
"The flames were going through the roof, I looked from the top of the driveway and I am not kidding it was like the whole interior of the house was just flames. I've never seen anything like it."
Police have spent the day investigating the cause of the fire.
Sharp has not returned to the scene today but she imagined there was nothing left.
She said Riley was a bit of a hoarder and the house was stacked full of his possessions including pianos, artwork, antiques and family heirlooms.
His beloved fox terrier called Buddy perished with him.
"They were inseparable, Buddy was his life, he loved his dog", Sharp said.
Riley was better known as Terry and his nickname was Thunder.
"He should have been an artist in his life but he was a fisherman and a farmer. He worked on boats off the North Sea, he was a tough guy", Sharp said.
The 73-year-old also loved sailing and once wrote a book about an adventure to Australia.
He had a passion for art and dabbled in wood cuts and etchings.
Riley recently sold the family farm but kept one hectare of land and the family home.
He had diabetes and the last time Sharp saw him was when she did his grocery shopping for him.
Their whānau is very close and Riley was in Sharp's Covid-19 bubble.
"He had health issues… and he was not as mobile as he could have been which would have made getting out of the house a bit difficult depending on what happened", she said.
Riley was a well-known figure in the community considering his family's longstanding roots in the area.
He was also a member of the Whangateau Resident and Ratepayers Association, and was on the board of the local cemetery, where he has a burial plot.
Sharp said the family was in shock and had no idea how the fire started but said there was no point in speculating while the Police investigation was ongoing.
"I just hope he didn't suffer, I hope that the smoke got him quick."