Tim and Fiona Noble thought they'd be in their Sunnyvale home forever.

Instead, the grandparents have lost all their possessions, and the home in which their children grew up - and their grandkids loved to visit - has been destroyed by fire.

On Sunday, about 6pm, the Housing New Zealand property was gutted in a blaze started by two grandsons - brothers aged 5 and 4 - who'd found a lighter in their father's bedroom and were playing with it on the deck.

The flame ignited an old couch, and before Fiona realised it had even begun, it was completely out of control.


She and her husband fled the two-storey home.

Nine others who were in the house at the time, including four children aged between 1 and 5, escaped unscathed.

"All we had time to do was get out," Fiona said. "All we have left are the clothes we're wearing."

The couple are staying with their son, Travis. They've lost all their possessions, but they're alive, which is what matters the most, Fiona said.

Their daughter Brooke Watson had just got home with her two kids at dinner time when she heard the boys shouting: "Fire! Fire!"

"It was into the roof of the deck at that stage and it was too big to do anything about it. All I could think to do was grab the kids and run and save ourselves," she said.

"It's unbelievable to look at this. We lived in this house for 16 years. There are so many memories."

Yesterday, the family returned to the house to salvage what they could. Fiona's cooking pot was still on the stove. Tim joked that the pork in the freezer might be nicely cooked now.

Luka, 3, worried there night be spiders in the house, but Fiona assured him they were all burnt to a crisp.

In their large backyard, the feijoa tree and Tim's beloved grape vine are unscathed. The hangi pit that was revived every Christmas for 16 years probably won't be used again.

Along the fence, garden gnomes dispersed among yukkas and freshly planted marigold seedlings overlooked charred beams, corrugated iron, couch springs and melted plastic.

The family's plumb tree was singed, but a vintage Cadillac in the house's carport remained unscathed.

All the family photos are gone - including the only images Tim had of his mum and dad, who have died.

"It was such a nice, tidy house. Mum always kept it clean. Now it's destroyed. It's just rubble," the Nobles' eldest daughter Melody Simon said.

"This was our home. We could always come back to it. This is devastating."

At the moment the family is staying with their son Travis. They've not had time to think about where they'll go next, but they'll be sorry to leave the neighbourhood.

"There are five families left of about 50 on this street that have lived here as long as we have," Tim said.

"Kaikoura is a really nice street. It's a beautiful area to bring children up. When we first moved in we were one of only two Maori families here. There's a nice kindy on this street and a good primary school up the road. The dairy owner is an old hand. People say 'hello'. It was nice coming home from work to see your neighbours and have time to talk to them.

"We had a good life here."

He said things couldn't get any worse for them this year - so he was feeling hopeful.

On Easter Sunday, Tim suffered a stroke, which meant he was unable to work. He now walks with a stick, and has trouble using his right arm.

And in July, after the company Fiona worked for lost its recycling contract, she and her colleagues were made redundant.

A Givealittle page has been set up to help raise money for the family to start over.

Fiona has also asked for urgent donations of clothes for Tim and herself. She is size 12-14 and Tim is XXL.