Thumping noises were heard before two men were seen loitering and fleeing a house which then went up in flames in Tirau, killing the sole female occupant.

Neighbours on Little St remained in shock on Monday as they recalled what they saw during the early hours of the morning. Police aren't commenting on the statements other than to say it will form part of their investigation.

One woman, who lives near the victim, said she was woken by several loud thumping noises about 3am.

One of her neighbour's heard it, too, and popped over to her house and they watched as a man fled on foot down the street.


They then watched a man walk around the front of the house, down the side, around the back before he climbed into a silver car, which then took off.

She said they then noticed an orange glow coming from the kitchen.

"No, no voices, nothing. Just thump. I just got up to see what it was all about and then [neighbour] came over and it was all on from there. There were about two or three thumps and we saw the guy walking up the road.

Family of the dead woman speak with Detective Senior Sergeant Matt Cranshaw at the cordon on Little St. Photo/Belinda Feek
Family of the dead woman speak with Detective Senior Sergeant Matt Cranshaw at the cordon on Little St. Photo/Belinda Feek

"[A second man] came out of the [lounge] door, and he walked along [the front] and walked down between the house and the hedge and then around the back and got into the car in the drive.

"But he wasn't hurrying or anything. He was just walking."

Her neighbour called 111, with the fire brigade arriving within minutes.

"They were just really quick and they yelled out 'is anyone there, is anyone there' and by then everything was ablaze."

The woman said the thumps must have been loud as she takes sleeping pills.

It was hard to recognise the man seen walking down the street as he had his head covered and was wearing dark clothing, she said.

The car was silver and similar to a Nissan Pulsar.

The view of the back of the house shows a large hole in the roof. Photo/Belinda Feek
The view of the back of the house shows a large hole in the roof. Photo/Belinda Feek

She said the woman's son and daughters often visited.

She also had grandchildren, the woman said.

But for now, the woman said she couldn't shake the image of the victim in her house.

"Just her body in there being burnt. She was only little. She was tiny. From the back you would think she was about a 12-year-old. That's how little she was."

She last saw her neighbour the day she died, waving out as she crossed the street.

Several family members also turned up at the scene on Monday, including the woman's former husband.

He recalled driving past the scene yesterday morning, looking down towards his former wife's house but believed it was another house affected.

He said it wasn't until he got to Hamilton and got a call from his daughter that he learned of the news.

Family had a brief chat with police at the cordon before leaving.

Detective Senior Sergeant Matt Cranshaw confirmed the fire was being treated as suspicious.

Police had spoken to potential witnesses and other members of the public. That information would form part of their investigation.

The woman's body was today undergoing a post-mortem examination and police continue to speak to family and friends.

Meanwhile, a best friend of the victim turned up to the cordon at Little St on Monday in shock after seeing a photo of the house on social media.

The woman was about to move to another town as the house was on the market.

The house itself was run down, she said, and freezing.

The friend said she'd last heard from her a few days ago.

"She rung me a few days ago and I didn't answer it because I was in Gisborne."

She hadn't seen her friend in a while, she said.

The woman was known to get around by hitchhiking.

"She hitchhiked everywhere."

The pair met when they were in their 20s, living in Mangakino.

"I'm 60 and she was coming up 60 ... we lived together for years. She was an amazing person. So talented, crafty."

Now that she was older her biggest passions were her grandchildren, she said.

"She lived for her grandchildren."

The woman lived in the house by herself but had her granddaughter living with her at times, too, and she'd been concerned the child was in the house with her at the time.