Family owned since 1948, the Morrice Furniture Store building – and the home of Jim and Nancy Morrice – on Simcoe Street, Tillsonburg was destroyed by fire Wednesday afternoon.
When firefighters arrived at 2:25 p.m. there was heavy smoke and some fire in the back, said Tillsonburg Fire Chief Shane Caskanette.
“Then the smoke and fire conditions got real bad, real quick,” said Caskanette.
“You’ve got to understand in a furniture store there’s a big fuel load. So we basically went defensive right off the start. The owner had confirmed with us that everybody was out and we just set up exterior operations.”
Caskanette noted it was not only a furniture store, it was the owner’s home.
A gofundme.com page for the Morrice family was created by Ronsons Audio Visual, set up by employee Tim Armstrong (Help The Morrice family rebuild their home). Jim and Nancy’s son Tyler works at Ronsons. The link can be found on the Ronsons Facebook page.
“We are also accepting any donations for the family here at the store as well (98 Broadway, Tillsonburg),” said Ronsons co-owner Steve Smith.
“I am hoping that we, the community of Tillsonburg, can come together to help this family during this tragic time,” wrote Armstrong on the gofundme page. “If you have ever stopped in or had the chance to meet the Morrice family you would know they are the most genuine, humble people.”
South-West Oxford and Norfolk firefighters assisted Tillsonburg Fire and Rescue Services through mutual aid calls.
Two hours after firefighters had arrived small fires could be seen still burning as water was sprayed from the ladder truck and from the ground.
“We actually stayed on scene all night, just to maintain scene integrity,” said Caskanette on Thursday. “We kept the pump here until probably 3 (a.m.) but we didn’t release the team, we kept them here. Most of the crews cleared around 9.”
Investigators from Ontario’s Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management arrived on scene Thursday morning.
“First we’ve got to establish the origin of the fire,” said Mike Ross, Investigator from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office. “That’s always the first primary objective because if you can’t find out where the origin of the fire is, you’ll never be able to figure out what caused it.
“So we’re just sort of starting the preliminary stages of this. Obviously you can see that the building’s been impacted and caused some structural concerns. We’ve got a collapsed roof, and on the far side the wall has completely bowed out. So there are some structural concerns to address first but once you mitigate those, then you can actually start to facilitate the actual fire investigation part.”
Depending on how much material they have to go through, fire investigations can take a short time – or sometimes up to three weeks.
“The final conclusion for us is always based on where the fire started, what materials were burning to allow it to get as big as it did, and then what ignited those materials,” said Ross. “That’s basically how we do it.”
They also use ‘front end’ information – photographs posted on social media, which can be used to help evaluate the fire in its early stages.
“In this case we’re probably going to have a team of about 5-8 people,” said Ross, noting the investigation team comes from as far as Niagara, Burlington, Barrie and North Bay. “It’s a total team collaboration from all parts. With that many people, and a building this size, you can make shorter work of it (compared to a two-person team).”