A fire that destroyed a family's home and left a woman and three children in hospital could have turned into an "absolute tragedy", a top firefighter says.
Fire and Emergency NZ was alerted to the blaze, in an isolated rural area south of Northland's Kaikohe, just after 3:30am on Saturday.
A mother and her school-aged children in the house at the time all suffered burns but managed to reach a neighbour's home some distance away.
Fire appliances responded from Kaikohe and Ōkaihau along with a tanker from Kawakawa but could not save the historic homestead, which was burning fiercely when the first firefighters arrived.
FENZ group manager Wayne Martin, of Kawakawa, said the occupants' lack of early warning about the fire suggested the house did not have working smoke alarms.
The fire was devastating for the whānau involved, and he did not want to see anyone else suffer the same trauma.
A St John spokesman said three ambulances, one rapid response vehicle and one helicopter were sent to the fire.
All four patients were initially taken by road to Bay of Islands Hospital in Kawakawa, one in a serious condition, one moderate and two with minor injuries.
Due to adverse weather the Westpac Rescue Helicopter was unable to land at the scene, instead collecting the seriously injured patient from Bay of Islands Hospital and flying her to the burns unit at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland.
A Middlemore spokesperson said she remained in a stable condition yesterday.
Martin urged all Northlanders to take fire safety seriously.
"This could have been an absolute tragedy," he said.
"This shows the importance of having working smoke alarms in every home. Every whānau and household needs to have an escape plan for their home, and make sure everyone knows what to do in the case of fire. That includes getting out quickly, going to the pre-arranged safe meeting place, and not trying to go back inside."
Fire safety officer Jason Goffin said an investigation into the cause of the blaze was still underway but it appeared the fire had started in the area of the wood burner.
"It's a timely reminder to keep anything combustible at least one metre away from any heater or fireplace, make sure your chimney flue has been cleaned and swept, and empty hot ashes into a steel bucket and take it outside."
Martin said precautions were especially important at this time of year as the weather cooled and people started using fireplaces and wood burners again.
An online search would bring up a list of local contractors able to clean chimneys, and homeowners confident of doing the job themselves could buy the equipment at most major hardware stores.
People who needed help with smoke alarms could call 0800 NZ FIRE (0800 693 473) to see if they were eligible for a visit from FENZ and a free home fire safety inspection.
In 2001 three children lost their lives when a house burned to the ground in Herekino, near Ahipara in the Far North. A similar tragedy claimed the lives of three children at Matauri Bay in 1997.
This story was originally published on the New Zealand Herald.