Basic elements -- wind, water and fire -- were all critical factors in a blaze that destroyed a 160-year-old barn on Batavia-Elba Town Line Road on Thursday afternoon.
The Elba fire was called in at 4:15 p.m. and the first Town of Batavia chief on scene reported only smoke coming from the barn.
Two minutes later, flames began shooting out the front door of the barn and within another minute they covered nearly a quarter of the roof. Even a quick response by a group of Genesee County volunteer fire departments couldn't beat the windswept flames from engulfing the front barn of Post Farms and spreading to a second attached barn.
Complicating matters for firefighters was the lack of public water on Batavia-Elba Town Line Road.
Eventually, Elba Fire Chief Brian Russell would request every single tanker from all 17 fire departments in Genesee County to the scene along with tankers from Orleans, Livingston and Wyoming counties, not to mention a couple of milk trucks drafted into duty to bring water from nearby ponds.
"When you’re flowing this much water on a barn fire you just go through water really quick," Russell said. "It just takes time to fill up the trucks and bring them back in."
In temperatures that exceeded 90 degrees and humidity that raised the heat index above 100, water was also essential to firefighter safety. First, Elba's auxiliary brought in refreshments and then the Salvation Army set up a rest and recovery station. A portable pool was also set up that firefighters could get in as a way to cool off.
More than 100 firefighters responded to the scene. The large contingent helped ensure crews could remain fresh.
"You’re wearing a lot of equipment and a lot of gear," Russell said. "It doesn’t take long for a body to get overheated."
Russell was grateful for the mutual aid from more than 20 departments throughout the region.
"Mutual aid is key in any situation like this, from manpower, the other trucks, water, you’ve just got to have the other departments responding," Russell said.
A Sheriff's Office investigation concluded that the fire started by exhaust from a skid loader in one of the barns.
The barn was full of hay and straw, which complicated firefighting efforts even further.
The barns are part of Post Farms, a dairy farm. The second attached barn contained calves. They were all evacuated safely. No livestock was hurt as a result of the fire.
One firefighter suffered a minor case of heat exhaustion and was taken by Mercy EMS to UMMC. He is reportedly fine.
The Post Farm has been in the family since the 1890s, when Stu Post acquired it. It's currently owned by Jeff Post.
His grandmother, Louise Post, spoke with reporters and the family is devastated by the loss of the barns and the contents.
"I think they are all very sorry to have this happen, not only the ones who work here, but the remainder of the family," Louise said.
"We lost a lot of history and a lot of product," she added.
While the fire was in progress, neighbors complained about the water situation on Batavia-Elba Town Line Road. The fire, they said, is exactly why either the Town of Batavia or the Town of Elba needs to bring public water to the road.
Plus, the well water on the road is undrinkable.
Douglas Clark and his wife said they've been drinking nothing but bottled water for 15 years, and when farmers are spreading manure, their bathing water smells pretty bad.
"I also work with these farmers and I support these farmers, so what am I supposed to do?" Douglas said. "The town ought to put water right down this road."
Below is a slide show of more than 60 photos from the fire. Click on the button in the lower right to expand to full screen mode. Pictures may be purchased by clicking here.