Fire destroys century old Hillhurst Manor

SIX NATIONS – A house fire that blocked traffic on Highway 54 for hours and tied up dozens of firefighters from several surrounding stations is under investigation by the Ontario Fire Marshall’s office.

The brick three-story manor set on a hill overlooking the Grand River was built around 1906, it is said, at a cost of $1,700 in the day, but has been valued at more than $1 million today.

Although not lived in, Hillhurst Manor, as it is known, was fully furnished and has been used for wedding and funeral receptions and the occasional guest. It was unoccupied at the time of the fire, however there were reports that someone was in the home before the fire was noticed.

Just before 6 a.m. on Friday morning, Six Nations Fire Services was called to respond to a fire at 995 Highway #54, at the Hillhurst Manor, Six Nations.

When fire fighters arrived shortly thereafter, the house was fully engulfed with fire lapping out of several windows.

It was a very difficult fire to contain given several factors, including what is known as “balloon frame construction” methods used at the time it was built.

Balloon framing is a style of building that uses long, vertical 2″ x 4″s for the exterior walls. These long “studs” extend uninterrupted, from the sill on top of the foundation, all the way up to the roof. When it first came into use, well before the mid-nineteenth century, it was a radically different type of construction from the “timber frame” or “braced frame” that preceded it for centuries.

This method is no longer in use because it can allow flame to spread rapidly from level to level and room to room during a fire.

“Because of early reports that there may be someone inside, a primary search of all three levels and the basement was conducted while a fire attack team was set up to fight the fire itself,” says Six Nations Fire Chief Matt Miller. “No one was found inside and no civilian injuries.”

The stubborn blaze took its toll on a number of firefighters, however.

“In total we had 29 firefighters and eleven trucks respond to the scene,” says Miller.

For more than an hour there were only Six Nations firefighters at the scene, but once exhaustion from the heat began to take its toll on firefighters, additional help was called in from the Haldimand County Fire Caledonia Station, as well as Onondaga and Brant County Stations.

“We had Six Nations Paramedics and Ambulance services backing us up with triage for our firefighters,” says Miller. “In total 16 firefighters were treated on scene for exhaustion and physical exertion. None transported to hospital.”

It is lawful under certain criteria for the Ontario Fire Marshall to investigate in such cases.

“Because of that the OFM was contacted and we have an investigator and an OFM engineer here assisting,” Miller says.

Recently the home was listed for sale with an asking price of $1 million. An early estimate of damage was in the $500,000 range.

“It’s probably going to get a lot higher than that once the investigation is complete,” Miller says.

Although the exact cause of the fire is still being determined, the OFM has ruled out arson.

A number of firefighters and equipment remained at the scene throughout the next two days to put out hot spots. Every time they thought the fire was out, it flared up again in another part of the house due to the balloon frame construction style.

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