SWARTZ CREEK (WJRT) (5/17/2018) - The smoke barely settled from the remnants of Sharp Funeral Home's flagship location in Swartz Creek, but the owner is moving ahead with plans to rebuild.
Roger Sharp says construction could start as early as June.
But first, fire investigators are working to determine what caused the massive fire. The preliminary investigation rules out arson as a possibility.
Sharp has more immediate worries, namely, taking care of families grieving the loss of their loved ones.
Sharp's team moved 11 bodies out of the Swartz Creek facility overnight to his Linden location, where they are in storage. The bodies weren't damaged by the fire.
"A couple of them were in caskets, some of them were on cots, some of them were on dressing tables and we put them in a car hauler and took them over to our Linden chapel and figured out what we were doing from there," Sharp said.
At least one funeral originally planned for Thursday at the Swartz Creek facility had to be moved. Sharp said all the families have been understanding as arrangements have had to change.
Five Swartz Creek churches have also stepped up to help Sharp accommodate funerals for grieving families.
Meanwhile, Sharp is dealing with the personal loss of the building he's owned since 1969. It's also the first he purchased in a chain of four funeral chapels in Genesee County.
"I don't believe it," he said. "I've been here 50 years."
When Sharp bought the Swartz Creek chapel from Ivan Bendell, who operated it as a funeral home since 1929, it was little more than a small house. Sharp and his family added on over the years to make it a full-service mortuary with cremation facilities.
"Everybody knows me," he said. "I was born and raised here -- here and Linden."
In business for close to 90 years, the funeral home was important to the Swartz Creek community. Countless families had final memorials for their loved ones in the building.
"It was kind of saddening to a lot of people," said Isabel Beedy, who lives nearby. "Somebody that I know was going to have their funeral here and their parents' funerals were here, so it meant a lot to the community."
Cynthia White, who lives in Swartz Creek, will miss the ornate historic building.
"It was a beautiful place. I've been inside. I walk by all the time as I do my walking exercise," she said. "I actually had it on record to come here upon my demise but it's awful."
Fire investigators believe the fire started in the preparation area and the cause was accidental. They were still sifting through the wreckage on Thursday to determine a specific cause.
"They let us go in the building but they want us to stay out of the preparation area. They think it started in there somewhere," Sharp said.
He believes the building will be ruled a total loss. However, plans to rebuild at the same location already are well under way.
"We'll tear this baby down and they say they can have a new one built in a 120 or 130 days," Sharp said.
His insurance company was on the scene surveying the damage on Thursday. Swartz Creek city officials also stopped by to offer support.
"They're going to issue a building permit ASAP as soon as they get the report from the fire marshal on what caused it," Sharp said.
If all goes well, he is hoping to begin demolishing the destroyed building and begin construction of a new facility within 30 days.