FOREST, ONT. -- A local fire chief says a million-dollar fire in a historic building in downtown Forest could have been far worse.

Laurence Swift, of the Lambton Shores Fire Department, says crews fought a stubborn battle with flames beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Several kilometres away a plume of smoke could be seen pouring from the century-old yellow brick building.

By morning, only its shell and bits of woods and brick remained.

“It’s pretty well burnt out on the inside. It’s unlikely to be restored,” Swift told CTV News London at the scene.

Thankfully no one was injured.

The building had been vacant, save for a ground-floor real estate office.

Swift says more than 60 firefighters, including crews from Petrolia and Exeter, assisted in the fight.

Initially, it took one hour to get the fire under control.

However, Swift says about two hours later, an aerial unit opened up the roof.

“We ended up with a big surprise.”

The flames kicked up again.

“The compartment was obviously filled with a high-energy amount of smoke and flames but it had no oxygen. When we opened up the area we introduced oxygen to it and the fire started going again.”

Once again, fears of losing the entire block motivated crews.

Swift says they keep most of the fire damage to the one building and protected the ornate Victorian building abutting it on one side.

Forest resident Ken Cable watched the battle, “It was tough to put out. They worked on that one for a long-time.”

Joanne Hobbs is also thankful the downtown she’s known for decades remains largely intact. Yet, she still she mourns losing another piece of its history.

“It’s a tough way for the community to come together.”

While surveying what is left, Swift concurred, “Losing a building in a downtown core is hard for any community. They’re gaps that often aren’t filled once the buildings are gone.”

The cause is undetermined but Swift says an electrical issue is the most likely culprit.

The building is likely to be knocked down for safety.