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''We got here in the nick of time.''
The Otakou property was made famous by New Zealand artist Robin White in A Buzzy Bee for Siulolovao, painted in 1977 when she lived in Portobello. The work shows a giant Buzzy Bee toy looming above the villa.
Owner Robert Montgomery, known as Monty, said he called 111 when he saw a ''whiff of smoke'' rising from the ridge of the roof, and he was surprised the fire had not spread.
Mr Montgomery, who had lived at the property for more than 40 years, was philosophical when asked if he was relieved.
''A new home would have been good.''
His wife, Mere, was depicted holding their first daughter, Siulolovao, outside the home in another well-known White artwork, Mere and Siulolovao, commissioned by the United Woman's Convention for their 1979 assembly in Hamilton.
A Fire and Emergency New Zealand spokesman said the cause of the fire was unknown.