In the 20 minutes between tenants leaving and firefighters quenching a blaze, the kitchen was trashed and the rest of a Bulls house suffered smoke damage.

The fire in Hudson St in mid-May left the rented house structurally sound, but with major interior damage, Bulls Deputy Chief Fire Officer Adrian Bennie said. It was open to the public from 10am-3pm on June 2, to show the fire's effect.

People were most impressed by how fast it all happened, the damage to the kitchen and the smoke damage to the rest of the house, Bennie said.

There were 270 visitors, which kept three Fire and Emergency New Zealand fire safety officers and six Bulls volunteers very busy. Visitors were from Whanganui and Palmerston North, as well as Bulls.

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The fire went up an internal wall and into the roof, where temperatures reached 900C.

Someone walking by saw smoke emerging from the roof tiles and rang 111. The fire was quickly doused but because doors were left open there was smoke damage throughout.

Tenants' possessions were affected and the kitchen was wrecked, but the house looked intact from the outside.

"If you drove past you wouldn't even know there was a fire in there."

Its structural soundness made it possible for it be opened to the public, with agreement from the tenants and owner, Bennie said. It was a chance to show the importance of working smoke alarms and of having an escape plan.

The house had a working smoke alarm, but no one was at home to hear it.

"A working smoke alarm could go off and warn the neighbour, before smoke has gone further. We've responded to houses with smoke alarms where we could take the pot off the stove before a fire started," Bennie said.