Witnesses woke to thumping noises and watched someone leave their neighbour’s house before it went up in flames.
A woman’s body was later found inside the rented Tirau home.
Police are treating the fire, that broke out at 3.30am on Monday, as suspicious.
A post-mortem needed to be completed on Tuesday before police formally released the name of the woman, Detective Senior Sergeant Matt Cranshaw, of Taupo CIB, said.
A nearby resident, who Stuff has chosen not to name, was awake just after 3am on Monday when she heard noises coming from the home across Little St.
“I didn’t hear any voices, but just saw it all.”
Unable to sleep because of the “thumping going on”, the resident, along with other neighbours, got up to take a look.
“That’s what woke us up. There were no voices, two or three thumps.”
She recalled seeing one person, who appeared to have their head covered and was wearing dark clothing walking down the street.
Another person, who she believed was a man, then came out the door of the woman’s home. He walked around the outside between the hedge and house, along the driveway around the back to a vehicle, she said.
“He wasn’t in a hurry or anything, he was just walking. He must have got in the car.
“We didn’t even know the car was there, it just glided out of the driveway.”
Moments later, a car pulled out of the driveway and an orange hue could be seen coming from the kitchen area, she said.
“My neighbour dialled the fire brigade and they were here straight away.”
About 50 percent of the two bedroom weatherboard home was fully engulfed in flames by the time the first of four fire crews arrived at 3.30am.
Firefighters from outside the home began yelling “is there anyone there, anyone in there,” the neighbour said.
“By then everything was away.”
All she could think about was her neighbour – the woman who would wave and say hello on the street – inside the burning home.
“She was only little, tiny, from the back you would think she was a 12-year-old.”
She said many of the woman’s children and grandchildren visited the property.
“There’s cars going in and out there, you don’t notice after awhile. We didn’t even realise [the car] was there until it drove out.”
Cranshaw confirmed police were investigating accounts of people being seen at the woman’s property prior to the fire.
Interviews were being conducted on Tuesday as part of the investigation.
He said fire investigators were still working to determine the exact cause of the fire, which started in the front left hand side of the house.
Police cordoned the entire street off on Monday while fire investigators, photographers and forensic specialists conducted a scene examination.
The woman’s estranged husband arrived at the house around midday with his daughters.
He heard about the fire on the news.
“I drove past earlier and looked down but I couldn’t see any damage to the house so I carried on and saw the cop cars down here,” he said pointing to one end of the street.
“I didn’t realise it was my ex until I got to Hamilton and my girl rang me up to say.”
The woman’s best friend, who would not be named, recognised the burnt out house on Facebook and rushed down to the scene.
Now aged 60, she had known her friend since they were in their 20s growing up in Mangakino.
“She was so amazing, was so talented and crafty, she lived for her grandchildren.”