Killer bushfires like those common in Australia could happen here if people continue to ignore warnings and light fires in areas of extreme fire risk, says a senior firefighter.

Four fires have blazed so far this summer in the Far North, where the fire danger is considered extreme.

Principal rural fire officer for the region, Lance Johnston, believes conditions are the worst seen since the mid-1980s.

"If people heed the warnings we'll be okay. No fires means that: none, with no exceptions."

Permits for hangis had been cancelled, but that hadn't stopped some people. Foreign tourists lighting campfires at night was also a problem.

"The majority of people are listening to the message but there are others that just ignore it. If people continue to ignore it then it could be fatal."

Mr Jones was one of 40 volunteers who spent Christmas Day battling a kilometre-long blaze in the Utakura Forest, near Okaihau.

The fire is thought to have been deliberately lit.

"It was a spectacular fire. The plume of smoke looked like an atomic explosion," he said. "When I knew where it was, I thought we would have a big job on our hands."

The fire raced through 33ha of 25- to 30-year-old pine trees that were ready to harvest and took all day to get under control. Hot spots were still smouldering five days later.

While the financial cost of the fire was big for the owner and ratepayers, who pay to have them extinguished, the consequences could have been far worse.

"The fires in Australia and America where people lose their homes and their lives are an example of what can happen. The potential damage that can be done with fires like this is huge."

Five helicopters with monsoon buckets battled the blaze that was finally brought under control at 10 o'clock on Christmas night.

Since then daily checks have been made to find hot spots that could ignite and restart the fire.

"The second day in here you couldn't see anything it was smouldering away," said Mr Johnston. It was humbling to see so many volunteer firefighters give up their Christmas Day to fight the fire.

With shops shut, even getting food and water to the fire crews was tricky.

"It couldn't have happened at a worst time, really. It was a logistical nightmare with families going away for Christmas."

He thought it would be possible to locate the source of the fire, but it might never be known what started it.

Contractors working in the forest hadn't been there for three days before the fire started, so the cause was not likely to be accidental.

"It's suspicious. Fires just don't start on their own."