By the time Tessa Pohio and her family evacuated their home at Ahipara, there was ash falling around the house and flames along the top of the ridgeline.
Firefighters had warned them earlier that they wouldn’t have much time to leave if evacuations were needed.
“The kids were scared but for us it was exciting, we all went down to the beach to watch,”Pohio said.
But it “got serious” when a firefighter told them: “You’re not being evacuated right now, but if you do, you’ll have only 10 minutes to get out.”
About 20 minutes later they got the word to leave.
They had to leave dinner behind – crayfish, kahawai and two legs of lamb half-done on the barbecue.
They were one of 40 properties in the area that were evacuated and spent the night at Roma Marae.
For 9-year-old Macie Abley-Marsh, the fire was exciting at first.
“But when they told us to evacuate I started getting scared.”
The fire started at about 5.45pm in Ahipara Gumfields Historic Reserve and quickly spread through dry scrub despite the best efforts of multiple crews and six helicopters.
Residents reported seeing flames as high as 40m as the blaze crept through scrub and towards homes.
Mayor John Carter said evacuation centres were set up, one at the Ahipara Rugby Club and another at Roma Marae, where evacuees would sleep for the night.
About 20 adults and 10 children, some in PJs and clutching cuddly toys, were at Ahipara Rugby Club at 10.30pm on Tuesday.
A band of volunteers, many associated with the club, prepared food for evacuees, while
members of Te Rarawa, the local iwi, headed to the club with fruit and vegetables from their market gardens.
Carter said when helicopters were stood down last night, when it became too dark for them to work, the fire was still spreading.
As the flames pushed towards the village, there was a risk homes could be destroyed.
By Tuesday night, the fire had grown to 2km wide in size, he said.
Helicopters would be back at first light on Wednesday, with fire engines on standby to protect buildings, he said.
He described the scene as “pretty horrendous” and said some residents were apprehensive about leaving their homes.
“Some didn’t want to evacuate, understandably, they wanted to be there to try and protect their homes. There is a … great deal of anxiety and concern.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Dave Clark, who has a section on Wharo Way, said firefighters made sure everyone was removed from the area.
Clark described the fire, which was mostly burning through native bush, as massive and said he had never seen anything like it before.
Another resident, Justin Edgecombe, said the fire was being fuelled by strong winds.
“It’s a massive, big scrub fire coming over the hill from behind [Ahipara],” he told the Herald.
“Where I was looking at it I was a long way away but the flames looked like they were probably 30m, 40m in the air.”
Local resident Teuri Reihana said smoke from the fire was “extremely thick”.
“It’s one of the biggest fires I have seen up here.
“It was so thick you couldn’t see the mountain, which was only 400m away.”
Reihana said it showed no signs of slowing down and remained visible later in the evening.
“I live two kilometres away and I can see the flames clearly from my house.”
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