After nearly an hour on scene in Pavilion yesterday, I told a chief things seemed under control and I was heading back home to my yard work.
At that point, the two-story commercial and residential structure at the corner of Ellicott Street Road and West Park Street looked fine. There was a faint whiff of smoke in the air, but no smoke showing and certainly no visible fire.
"You might want to stick around," the chief said.
A firefighter told me a few minutes later as he laid out hose from a tanker truck, "this could get really interesting really fast."
Later the chief would tell me, "see, my worst fears came true."
The origin of the fire was in the crawl space of the attic. An area covered in hard wood, spray-in installation and only 18 inches of space in any direction.
First Assistant Chief Sean Vogt said his crew was poking through the ceiling, trying to find the right access point to the smoldering fire and Le Roy's crew had punched a ventilation hole in the roof, then the fire took on a life of its own.
"If we we could have gotten up there, gotten our hose lines up there, wetted it down, maybe we could have saved a little more of the building, but with it going through the roof, it just flashed over on us too fast," Vogt said. "It was just rough."
Pavilion's volunteer firefighters responded to the structure at 2:40 p.m. for the report of smoke in the building. Le Roy was immediately requested to the scene. Soon, responses from Bethany and Stafford were requested as well, then Bergen.
By the time fire broke out, there were two ladder trucks in position (Town of Batavia had its ladder in place minutes after the first flame erupted through the roof).
Even with Le Roy shooting water at the first flames, the blaze spread quickly once it got going.
As big and as destructive as the fire became, firefighters did manage to contain it to the one building, even though a house sat inches from the north wall and another commercial building was only two or three feet to the west.
County records do not list what year the building was constructed, but the west wall was covered in the same faux-brick metal siding that show up in 150-year-old photos of the former Wiss Hotel in Le Roy (the last building standing that I know of in Genesee County with this siding is in Corfu).
As many as 200 firefighters from Genesee, Livingstone and Wyoming counties responded to the fire.
While the responding fire trucks can pump at least 1,250 gallons of water per minute, the fire hydrants in Pavilion flow at no more than 450 gallons per minute. At least a dozen tanker trucks responded to the scene to draw water from a nearby creek to provide additional water flow.
At least two firefighters were overcome by smoke and heat and were transported by Mercy EMS to area hospitals for evaluation.
Initially, while the fire was just smoldering, residents of the apartments were able to retrieve some belongings. The residents of the house to the north rescued their cat before the smoke got heavy.
Red Cross was on scene to provide food and beverages for firefighters.
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