Neighbours had to stand by and watch a house burn down without realising someone was inside.
A 57-year-old man died when fire razed the house in Tangoio, north of Napier, leaving just the chimney standing.
Neighbours in Darky's Spur Rd rang emergency services when they spotted Martin Carswell's farmhouse on fire on Sunday.
When the Bay View volunteer fire brigade arrived at 5.30pm, the house had been burnt almost to the ground, officer in charge Richard Hinks said.
The remains of a person were found inside.
Neighbour Peter Stone said neighbours rushed to the house but there was little anyone could do, because the fire had taken hold. "Even the truck melted to the ground."
They did not know there was anyone inside the inferno.
Mr Carswell had lived alone for at least 10 years. He often worked as a shearer and fencer around northern Hawke's Bay.
"He was a typical Kiwi farmer . . . a bit of a hayseed," Mr Stone said. "He was always working."
Others described him as a recluse and a petrolhead. He owned three motorbikes and a V8 Valiant.
Mr Hinks said the community's three water tanks were used to fill the tanker through a hose, but it was not fast enough. A portable pump was used instead.
Police are investigating.
- The Dominion Post
How many coffees do you have a day?Related story: Coffee as we know it at risk of dying