Recovery crew finds body in Port Colborne home where fire killed 4

Crews searching for the bodies of a woman and her two children following a fire Wednesday at a home in Port Colborne, Ont. have found one of the victims in the charred structure.

Building presents 'significant challenges because it's structurally compromised,' fire chief says

Tammy Burd, right, and her daughter, Sam Zuvic, middle, and son Josh Zuvic, centre, were believed still trapped inside their Port Colborne, Ont., home during a fire early Wednesday morning. Joe Zuvic, left, father of the two children, managed to escape before the home collapsed. (Tammy Burd/Facebook)

Fire crews combing the rubble of a burned-out home in Port Colborne, Ont., have found the body of one of the three victims they are searching for.

The fire early Wednesday killed four people, with the first victim pulled from the still-burning home by fire crews when they arrived.

The body discovered Thursday morning was in the upper second floor bedroom of the family home. Officials haven't made an identification.

They are now working to remove the body from what remains of the charred structure, which is expected to be a slow process in order to not harm the investigation or further damage the unstable structure.  

Fire crews Thursday began working to recover the bodies of Tammy Burd, 37 and her children, Samantha Zuvic, 15, and son Josh Zuvic, 2, from what remains of their home after it was engulfed by a fire. The fire also killed Eva Burd, 83, the children's great-grandmother. Firefighters pulled her from the burning home Wednesday, but couldn't save her life.

Tammy Burd's husband, Joe Zuvic, and uncle, Gary Burd, who was living in a secondary residence inside the home, managed to escape, police said.

"The goal today is to get inside and recover the bodies," said Niagara Regional Police Service Const. Phil Gavin before the latest body was found.  

He told CBC Hamilton that Burd and her two children were inside the home in the Lake Erie community at Nickel Street near the Welland Canal at the time the fire broke around 1:20 a.m. ET Wednesday.

Port Colborne fire Chief Thomas Cartwright said it's a delicate situation, and dangerous, to enter the home, due to fire damage and ice buildup on the structure, from water firefighters sprayed to try to put out the flames.

Weather was also complicating attempts to find the mother and her two children, Niagara police said.

"The building is going to present significant challenges because it's structurally compromised, the second floor is in the basement and there's ice frozen inside," said Gavin.  

On Thursday, that already slow task was made more difficult by frigid temperatures and gusting winds that forced fire crews to dismantle the home one room at a time.  

Heavy equipment was brought to the scene Wednesday afternoon to help with clearing away the remains of the home. 

"They have heavy machinery slowly pulling down walls because the structure is too unsafe to send in people to get the bodies out," said Ontario Fire Marshal Ross Nichols. 

'This was my family'

Across the street, family members and neighbours of the victims huddled together, watching as a demolition vehicle chews through the wreckage of the longstanding home.

"This was my family," said Holly Paquin, who says she's the girlfriend of Jason Burd, the brother of Tammy Burd. 

"Sam, she was the most outgoing, caring, crazy girl," she said about the 15-year-old. "She always stayed true in her own little way. She brightened my day. She was definitely something else. Josh barely got to live... The kid loved everybody and there wasn't a day you would see him that there wasn't a smile on your face."

Investigators estimate it will take nearly three days to clear debris and uncover the cause of the fire. 

Meanwhile, there's no evidence that fire started externally and no other clues pointing to what caused the flames to engulf the home yet, Nichols told CBC Hamilton.  

Denise Bull organized a vigil Wednesday night to support the family and neighbours of the Nickel Street home, which was left in ruins after a fatal fire. (CBC)

But as Port Colborne Mayor John Maloney said, the community is reeling from this tragedy. 

"There's an aura of disbelief, of sadness, bewilderment," he said during an interview on CBC Radio's Here and Now. "There's anger that this could happen to a young family like this."

Last night, Port Colborne resident Denise Bull hosted a vigil outside the fire-gutted home, even though she didn't know the people who were trapped inside. 

"It's about the family and supporting the poor man who lost his family," she said.  

Other community members, Grant Jennings and Carrie Lasovich, launched the Burd Family Fund at the Sobeys in Port Colborne on Thursday.

Fire crews were relying on heavy equipment to sift through the rubble and burned home to find the bodies of a mother and her two children. (Dave Beatty/CBC)

With files from Dave Beatty