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Wind-swept fire damages funeral home

Wind gusts of 20 mph whipped a fire that swept through a Bailey Avenue funeral home Saturday.

The fire heavily damaged United Memorial & Moss Funeral Home at 3272 Bailey -- a family-owned and operated business that bills itself as the largest African-American funeral home in Buffalo.

"The wind made a big problem for us," Division Chief Scott Barry said at scene. "The wind was driving the fire, and it was burning more intensely."

Firefighters atop the ladders of two ladder trucks had to contend with strong winds to extinguish the flames. The first firefighters were dispatched at 5:29 p.m., and nearly three hours later, firefighters were still shooting water from hoses atop the ladders. The winds carried some water coming from their hoses away from the two-alarm fire.

The funeral home is one block from Engine 23, so firefighters quickly arrived on the scene. But the fire may have burned undetected for quite a while, because Bailey Avenue wasn't as busy with traffic and pedestrians on the holiday as it is on most days at the time the fire was called in.

Firefighters initially went inside the brick building to douse the flames. But two firefighters fell halfway through the floor, catching themselves on what remained of the weakened floor to keep from falling into the basement.

"It was too dangerous to leave the firefighters inside," so commanders pulled them out, Barry said.

Instead, firefighters used ladder trucks to extinguish the fire from outside the building.

Neither of the firefighters who fell suffered serious injuries, and they remained at the scene battling the fire.

In all, the division chief said, six engine and five truck companies responded to the fire.

Nobody was inside the building when the firefighters arrived. And there were no bodies in the funeral home, officials added.

It was too early to determine what started the fire, he said.

The city's newest ladder truck -- Ladder 13, based at the fire station on Hertel Avenue near Elmwood Avenue -- responded to the fire, its first major fire, Barry said.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com