Mary Dar's return to Aupouri Peninsula after seven years in London hasn't begun well.
She and Kenyan-born husband Abid, a Londoner for 44 years, bought a two-storey Ngataki house built for the late Dame Mira Szaszy and had only recently moved in when fire broke out on Thursday afternoon.
Mrs Dar (nee Murray) was counting her blessings on Friday. Her new home was badly smoke and water-damaged but no-one was hurt. The family will stay with relatives nearby at least until it the damage has been assessed.
"If it had happened at night while we were asleep it could have been much worse," she said.
Mr Dar was at his computer, smelled burning and when he investigated, saw smoke. Both the Houhora and Kaitaia fire brigades responded, plus a crew from Kaitaia plumbing firm Rogers and Rogers (who were working at Pukenui, about 12km to the south). Patrons at the nearby gym helped move furniture and other possessions out of harm's way.
The Pukenui appliance was first on the scene and Kaitaia Station Officer Ross Beddows said by then smoke was pouring from the gables and flashings. The crew set up a water supply from the owner's tank and climbed on to the roof, the steep pitch making that risky.
Most of the Dars' belongings were outside when the Kaitaia brigade arrived. Deputy Chief Fire Officer John Whitlow said the fire had begun taking hold in the insulation and beams, leaving no option but to remove the roofing iron to get to it.
"There was no ceiling cavity, the home having exposed wood beams and ceiling and firefighters had to break through the roof as best they could using axes and crowbars," Mr Beddows said. "Two hoses were jammed under the iron to extinguish the fire, which had spread across one whole side of the roof."
The plumbers helped remove sheets of iron and the fire was extinguished soon after, but not before serious damage was done to the framework of the roof. The entire home had extensive water damage, but Mr Beddows said the crews deserved credit for an excellent save.
"The fire was on the verge of getting out of control when the Pukenui crew arrived."
Fire safety investigators believed it began as the result of an electrical fault in the ceiling above the lounge, although the cause had not been conclusively identified.
The house was damaged by what began as a chimney fire in August last year.