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Rooming house on Main Street, Batavia, destroyed by late afternoon fire

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A smoke detector helped alert residents that a fire was smoldering inside a rooming house at 433 E. Main St., Batavia.

"My wife heard a beeping noise and she smelled smoke," said resident Joe Allegue. "We opened the door, we’re in apartment 11, and the black smoke just billowed right into the room and covered us."

Allegue said he started yelling, "Fire," and got his wife out then called 9-1-1.

The basement fire was reported to Genesee County Dispatch at 4:16 p.m., and the first city crews were on scene within minutes. Smoke was already billowing from the basement and working its way up to the second and third floors.

433emainfire02.jpgFirefighters faced some significant structural obstacles in fighting the fire, according to Chief James Maxwell, which eventually forced firefighters to withdraw from the interior of the complex.

"We made several attempts at the basement, but by that time, it was already on the first and second floors," Maxwell said. "The way the interior structure was portioned with the different apartments, we were just chasing it around from room to room. Eventually it got in the attic, so at that point, the safest option was to go to a defensive operation."

The city already had Ladder Truck 15 on scene, pouring water on the roof from the southwest corner of the building. Town of Batavia's Ladder Truck 25 was brought to the scene to attack the fire from the rear roof area.

According to tax records, the structure was built in 1950. That was near the end of the use of balloon-framing construction in the United States, according to Wikipedia.

In balloon framing, the walls of a building are continuously open from the basement to the attic, making it easier for a fire to climb quickly up the interior of the walls.

The building is a total loss. Fire crews were still on scene at midnight, with active firefighting lasting at least five hours.

433emainfire03.jpgAt 11 p.m., investigators were calling for water to be pumped from the basement so they could begin the work of trying to determine the cause of the fire.

Eleven people living in eight boarding rooms and two apartments were displaced by the fire.

That's the hardest part said property owner Terry Platt. While the nature of insurance on this type of rental property means he may never fully recover the financial loss, it's sad, he said, seeing his tenants go through something like this.

"They’re the type of residents who really can’t afford the insurance to be able to cover all of their contents and of course they’re going to lose everything now," said Platt, who acquired the property in 1990. "That’s the worst part. It’s just sad. The rest of it is just a big headache, but it’s worse for all the tenants. They’re walking out with no shoes on their feet. It’s just sad to see that happen."

Platt said the loan on the property was nearly paid off and once it was, he was going to be able to invest in upgrades to the apartments.

Within hours of the fire being reported, Red Cross officials were beginning to assist residents in finding temporary housing, but Platt said there's a shortage of rooming houses available at the rate his tenants could afford to pay -- he was charging from $75 to $85 per week -- so finding long-term housing for many of the residents could prove difficult.

All 11 residents were safely accounted for within two hours of the fire being reported. At one point, one resident was thought to possibly still be in an apartment. The inset picture is of Platt trying to recall, so he could tell a firefighter, the best way to get to the apartment.

Doug Yeomans also submitted a series of photos from the fire.

Disclosure: Terry Platt is my landlord.

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More pictures after the jump:

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Kyle Couchman
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Good job to the Batavia Fire Dept, looks like almost no damage to the ajoining properties with is the best you can hope for with a fire like this. Perfect exaample of why people stopped balloon style construction. I should get ahold of Mr. Platt, I used to do floorplans for occasions like this for the properties I oversaw in Ithaca, a great help for firefighters in making a thorough rescue/search for tenants in converted houses like this.
Laura Russell Ricci
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That second picture is the most surreal picture...
Laura Russell Ricci
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great coverage too Howard!
Kyle Couchman
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Yeah Howard you do have a good eye (and incredible luck as I know how hard action photography is to compose on the spot) Kudos
Doug Yeomans
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Awesome pics, Howard. Laura, that was my immediate reaction to the 2nd pic, also.
Doug Yeomans
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Thank you for the link, Howard. I had to leave before flames were visible, though. My camera and I were getting soaked in the rain.
Dave Olsen
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Thank God noone was hurt or killed. Very sad about the occupants.
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