Windows exploded as a Dannevirke woman and three young children ran from a blazing home with flames licking at their backs.
Fire broke out at the Denmark St property late on Saturday night - gutting the entire house and destroying everything inside.
Home owner Renee Brandon noticed flames on the front porch before smelling smoke, and immediately ushered 4-year-old daughter Karlani and two young friends out the back door.
"When we ran out the fire was charging us. Windows were blowing out," she said yesterday.
The experience has left her shaken, though she was now staying with family and had their support.
Ex-partner Rikki Hanson, who also lived at the address, had been catching up with a friend when he got a phone call with the bad news.
By the time he arrived there was nothing to do but stand back and watch what felt like a film scene unfolding before them.
"I have done a lot of work to the place. When Renee rang and said it was on fire it took a couple of seconds to click in. When we were driving there I could see the flames and smoke - it was like being in the movies," he said.
Yesterday morning Mr Hanson went back to the site to pick through piles of ashes and charcoal, but nothing had been spared.
"The house is a total write-off. Everything is gone. All the family mementos, photos, stuff from our past - it's all gone."
His daughter's toys were destroyed too, but she was safe and well with lots of love surrounding her.
Local firefighters had a tough time quelling the blaze which ran rampant through every room.
"This was the most difficult fire we've had to deal with in recent years and it was lucky everyone got out as the fire spread through the house quickly," Dannevirke Volunteer Fire Brigade Fire Chief Pete Sinclair said.
Ms Brandon told Mr Sinclair the home had working smoke alarms. He said the fire's speed was a warning to everyone to ensure their homes were fitted with working smoke alarms, too.
"Our first truck was at the scene just five minutes from the time the 111 call was received, but the fire was already going lickety split through the old wooden villa," Mr Sinclair told Hawke's Bay Today.
The speed at which the fire moved and the way it broke out from different areas of the house also shocked neighbours, who'd noticed flames shooting out from the front of the house when the fire first began.
"It's unbelievable how it's flaring up over and over," one neighbour said. "Thank goodness for our wonderful firefighters. The devastation is so sad but at least everyone is alive."
Mr Sinclair said the blaze was very hard to put out because of the construction of the old villa.
"Like so many of these buildings, a second ceiling has been added, so we had a second cavity for the fire to travel along in the roof space," he said.
"We had difficulty accessing the cavity space and couldn't put anyone up on the roof as it was unstable, so we couldn't get the blaze out until we lifted the roofing iron."
From 10.30pm until 2.30am volunteer firefighters, all wearing breathing apparatus, continued to douse the flames breaking out throughout the home.
The Woodville Volunteer Fire Brigade, initially called to Dannevirke to give cover to the town, was later redirected to the scene when more manpower and breathing apparatus were needed.
"It was a very smoky scene and we needed everyone in breathing gear," Mr Sinclair said.
Fire investigators Bob Palmer from Hastings and Mike Finucane of Dannevirke confirmed the fire began in the front porch of the old villa but were still to discover how it had started.
In a separate incident, fire safety investigators were also looking into a blaze at Procycles shop in Napier.
The fire at the Onekawa garage, which was reported about 10.50pm on Friday, was not being treated as suspicious but required several fire crews to extinguish. There were no injuries.