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Two children were pulled from a burning car today by their mother, who had left them alone in the vehicle while she went to the bank.
A six-year-old boy and 22-month-old girl were alone in the car on Baxter St, Warkworth, when the boy found a cigarette lighter in the car.
Warkworth chief fire officer Ian Davies said the lighter was used to start the fire.
"He was playing with a cigarette lighter and set fire to the rear of the driver seat, right where his sister, a 22-month-old, was sitting," he said.
The children's mother was across the road from the parked car, inside a bank. She pulled the six-year-old out of the car but struggled to remove the baby in the child restraint.
A passerby, who didn't want to be named, saw smoke coming from the car and ran to help the mother.
"The car seat was a little bit stuck; the release button wasn't releasing immediately," she said.
"There was visible flames in the car close to the little girl. If it had have been another few minutes it could have been quite a different outcome."
Mr Davies said the blaze was put out by someone at the scene with a fire extinguisher before the Fire Service arrived, and the children did not suffer burns or smoke inhalation.
National manager of fire investigation Peter Wilding said children playing with lighters was a problem "close to [his] heart".
This was the third fire that had been started by children left unattended in a vehicle with lighters or matches this year, he said.
In every case the children have been plucked to safety by someone who'd seen the fire.
"In all of the last three cases there just happened to be a bystander walking past that could take action," Mr Wilding said.
"The chance of those kids being alive if [bystanders] had been waiting for us to arrive would have been pretty slim."
Mr Wilding said no lighters were child-proof.
"The responsibility rests with the adults who buy the lighters and who use the lighters to make sure they are kept separate from kids.
On January 15 this year a mother left three children alone in a car while she picked up a prescription from a pharmacy in Palmerston North.
A fire began when a child played with matches inside the car.
The children were pulled from the van by a passerby and treated at hospital for burns.
Later that month two young children were pulled from a burning van in an Ohakune supermarket carpark. A lighter was used to start that fire.
In April last year, two children were critically injured in a fire that started when a child played with a lighter while left unattended in a vehicle in Gisborne.
The children were pulled from the vehicle by five bystanders, and suffered serious burns.