Spring Bay family survives suspected arson

Credit family’s dogs with sounding 2 am alarm, saving family

SPRING BAY—The Manitoulin Ontario Provincial Police detachment is investigating a suspected case of arson at a Spring Bay farm residence on Sunday, October 13 around 2 am.

The Joyce family of Spring Bay awoke early Sunday morning to their two dogs barking and the smell of smoke.

“My husband Ross and I had just been up with our two children, Sarah, who is 10-and-a-half months and David, who is two-and-a-half,” Cathy Joyce told The Expositor last week during an exclusive interview about the fire. “With two small children, we don’t get a lot of sleep, but we managed to get everyone back to bed and that’s when our dog Paulie let out a large bark. It wasn’t a play bark or a ‘I need to go outside’ bark and then our other dog George let out a growl and a bark.”

“Then we smelled it,” continued Ms. Joyce. “My husband said, ‘can you smell that (smoke)’ and we both ran downstairs. There was smoke just pouring out of the kitchen vent at the base of the stairs and Ross ran outside to the cellar door. Ross yelled that there was a fire in the basement. I was debating whether to grab the kids or water and Ross shouted to bring water.”

Ms. Joyce said she was scared, but knew the basement was damp and hoped that since her husband was yelling for water instead of calling 911, they could contain it.

“I filled up a bucket and brought it out to him,” said Ms. Joyce. “When I got to the cellar he was throwing up (onto the lawn) melted planting trays and other things on fire with his bare hands. The fire was on top of a crossbeam in the basement (cellar), below three floorboards that formed part of the kitchen floor and the adjacent kitchen floor vent.”

The floorboards had been scorched and Ms. Joyce said these boards were ‘red hot’ when they came on the scene and the vent set into the floor was melted.

“Luckily, the beam was damp so it hadn’t caught fire, but there was an ignition source that had been placed on top of the beam and it was on fire with the fire falling onto the planting trays underneath,” she added.

“I couldn’t believe how lucky I was not to have severely burnt my hands,” said Mr. Joyce. “Thanks to the damp basement, the fire didn’t catch and I only have a small blister.”

The Joyces managed to get the fire out quickly, but due to the strange circumstances around the fire, they called the police.

“I can’t say too much because I don’t want to jeopardize the OPP’s ongoing investigation,” explained Ms. Joyce, “but something had been placed on the beam, which we know wasn’t there previously because we redid the insulation in the basement when we moved in. Also, the beam hadn’t caught fire yet, so you could clearly see the ignition source. It was clear that someone had started the fire.”

Ms. Joyce told The Expositor that she and her husband had left the cellar door open, hoping to dry it out prior to winter which would also have made entering the basement from the outside easy for any intruders.

“The source of the fire was directly below the electrical panel and also directly below the only set of stairs leading to the second floor,” added Ms. Joyce. “If the dogs hadn’t barked, we might not have noticed the smell as quickly. We could have been trapped upstairs and with the location of the fire right below the electrical panel, the whole house could have been destroyed with us in it.”

“We were very lucky,” said Ms. Joyce. “We were alerted to it early thanks to George and Paulie and there was no major damage.”

The Spring Bay residents said that the police arrived at 5 am that morning and began an investigation that is still ongoing.

“They (the OPP) collected evidence from the basement as well as surveying the scene and canvassing the area and were able to find more evidence of a suspicious nature,” shared Ms. Joyce. “They came back the next day and took photos and documented everything. We are hopeful that the OPP will be able to find whoever did this to our family.”

Following the fire, the Joyces called Mindemoya Home Hardware Building Centre owner Mike McKechnie on Sunday morning, who opened his store early for the Joyces to stock up on fire protection equipment.

“It (the fire) really scared us,” Ms. Joyce said. “At the time I wasn’t even thinking about how someone had almost killed us, I was just thinking ‘the fire alarm didn’t go off’ and ‘we had no way out of the house if the fire had caught at the bottom of the stairs.’ We bought and installed all new smoke detectors throughout the house, as the existing ones weren’t installed property. We also got a carbon monoxide monitor and ordered an emergency escape ladder.”

“You never think something like this is going to happen to you,” added Mr. Joyce. “There is still a pit in my stomach. I keep thinking everything over, second-guessing how I handled the situation and what could have happened. We were really lucky; another few minutes and we would have been jumping from a second floor window. My advice is for anyone who hasn’t done so already, make sure you have emergency plans in place, because when it happens to you, unless you have a plan, it’s hard to think rationally.”

Sitting with Sarah on her knee in her living room, Ms. Joyce opened up about how the incident finally hit her later in the week.

“A (police) officer called to see how we were doing,” she explained, “and then it just kind of hit me—I’m not doing okay. It is one thing to damage a home, but for someone to sneak into our home and try to burn it down with myself, my husband and our babies sleeping in it? It’s scary—scary to think that someone could have killed us. It’s not a joke to light fire to someone’s house.”

Ms. Joyce said that she and her husband are just trying to get back to normal, hopeful for the police to catch the individual(s) behind the suspected arson.

“I don’t want David to be afraid or think that there are bad people in the world,” concluded Ms. Joyce, “but we have been teaching him the (civic) address and talking about what to do in emergency situations.”

The investigation by the Manitoulin OPP is ongoing. If anyone has any knowledge or information of this occurrence they are asked to call police at 1-888-310-1122, or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

Robin Burridge