Elba Onion Farmers Back To Work After Fire

Losses In Millions of Dollars From Elba Fire

ELBA, NY – “You always think you’ve got too much insurance until something like this happens,” said Mark Torrey, as he looked over the remains of part of his family businesses destroyed in a Thanksgiving Day Fire. “Then you know you don't have enough," Torrey told WGRZ-TV.

Torrey met with an insurance adjuster on Friday, as the last of the firefighters mopped up at the scene on North Byron Road near Transit Road.

“It’ll be a few million dollars,” Torrey replied, when asked for a damage estimate to his family’s property and business.

The center piece of their operations,  a large cinder block structure, is a total loss, and had to be demolished so firefighters could get in to quell the flames.... believed to have possibly been sparked by a short in a block heater on a tractor.

"Initially it didn't look that bad other than a lot of smoke,” said Travis Torrey, Mark’s son. “We thought it was kind of contained in one corner of the facility, but the way the wind was and the lack of water made it really take off."

The nearest hydrant, on the end of a public line, didn't have optimal pressure, according to firefighters at the scene.

Moreover, the lagoons along the rich black fields of muck land where the onions are grown, which normally could have supplied an ample amount of water that could be drawn to fight the fire, had been left low from the summer drought.

Beyond the 20,000 bushels of onions lost in the fire, the building housed the primary packing operation for Big O Farms, which would bag up to 11 tractor trailer loads of onions per day.

“The packing operation was worth a lot more than these onions that we lost here," said Mark Torrey, who added that the farm still has about 800,000 bushels left to pack.

“We’re setting up a line at another facility right now to get back packing, and we're ordering some packing equipment because it’s kind of specialized,” said Torrey.

The specialized equipment involves computerized scales and baggers used to determine how many onions, and of which particular size, to place into a sack so that it is precisely the weight it is supposed to be.

“We’re talking about air freighting (some equipment) in from Europe now,” he said.

On top of the devastating loss to the family business, the Torrey family has been dealing with the severe illness of Mark’s 30-year old daughter, who is fighting an aggressive form of cancer, and from whom doctors recently delivered his grandchild, two months premature, who is now in a neo natal intensive care unit in Rochester.

“It’s been a rough month,” Torrey said.
 


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