ALTONA — Robert and Claudine Jarvis lost 160 cattle in a massive barn fire at their 373 Forest Road farm early Friday morning.

Some 100 firefighters from 18 departments battled the blaze in temperatures as cold as 17 below zero that raised havoc with their equipment.

The wind chill made conditions even worse.

70 COWS LEFT

Of the cattle that were lost, 103 were dairy cows, and the rest were breeding heifers, dry heifers and young stock calves, said Danny Jarvis, Robert's brother, who grew up on the farm with him.

The 70 that remain are housed in another barn situated 50 to 60 feet away from the one that burned.

It was not affected by the fire, Danny said.

"They got a little bit of smoke, but the vet looked at them, and he said they're fine," Robert said.

While no official determination had been made as of Friday afternoon, the fire was thought to be electrical in origin, he said.

Where the old part of the barn met an addition, there were a lot of electrical wires, he added.

GLOW IN THE SKY

Danny said he thinks two Clinton County highway workers reported the blaze at about 3 a.m.

They were driving by and smelled smoke and then saw the fire, he said.

Danny learned about the fire through a 3:03 a.m. cellphone call from a county employee.

He hurried to his truck and drove the mile to the farm.

"I looked out the window, and all I could see was the glow."

More than a dozen fire departments were dispatched starting at 3:08 a.m.

But the barn could not be saved.

"A barn fire of this magnitude — it goes quick," Danny said.

SAVED SOME ANIMALS

Robert tried to get the cows out, but the animals kept running back into the barn.

"They think that's their home, so they want to go back to it because they're scared."

But Robert and Danny were able to rescue nine calves, two pigs and two miniature horses before the heat and smoke became too dangerous.

"I wanted to go back in, and they (firefighters) wouldn't let me," Robert said.

"I wanted to at least shoot them so they wouldn't suffer.

"It was bad."

Many fire victims say it feels like forever for crews to arrive, Danny said, and while it took less than 10 minutes for firefighters to reach the farm, it seemed like much longer.

Danny is second assistant chief of the Ellenburg Depot Volunteer Fire Department.

VISIBILITY DIFFICULT

Water was hauled from the McGregor Dam in Ellenburg Depot and Altona Correctional Facility in Altona, a press release from Clinton County Emergency Services said.

The effort to drench the flames was hampered a number of times by frozen equipment.

Tankers with freeze-ups were sent to nearby fire stations and the Clinton County highway garage to thaw out fill ports, dump valves and pumps.

At 5:40 a.m., firefighters reported that pumper trucks were rotating through regularly.

Smoke or steam clouds from the fire were making visibility very difficult, they said.

AERIAL LADDER

Food and hot beverages were brought to the site for firefighters working in subzero temperatures.

Just before 6 a.m., scanner chatter reported: "Making some progress from aerial ladder."

"Keep the trucks coming," a firefighter said at about 6:30 a.m. "We're going to need them pretty quick."

By 7 a.m., crews were winding down their efforts, and everyone had cleared the fire site by 8:30 a.m.

"We're going to go through one more round of tankers, and then we're going to begin to pack it up," came a report.

"I'll make sure the heat in the station is turned up for you guys," one official said.

CENTURY-OLD FARM

Robert and Danny's grandfather Clarence Jarvis started the farm and passed it down to his son, their father, Clayton "Kim" Jarvis, who is now 77, and then to Robert.

"It's been in the family for 100 years," Danny said.

The rubble was still smoldering late Friday afternoon, with smoke rising into the sky.

Robert and Danny's sister, Sharon Jarvis, was helping her brother and his family clean up.

It's a huge loss for the whole family, she said.

"We all grew up here. We have so many good memories."

HOPES TO REBUILD

The insurance company had been called, but Robert didn't know when an adjuster would be able to assess the damage.

And he wasn't sure if his insurance policy would cover the entire loss.

But he hopes to rebuild and eventually get more cattle.

The Jarvis home, which sits 150 to 250 feet from the barn, was not damaged.

Robert said he is grateful for all the firefighters who responded and for others who stopped by to help.

"They had to be out in that cold. They did their best."

Participating in the effort were fire departments from Altona, Ellenburg Depot, Ellenburg Center, West Chazy, Chazy, Champlain, Chateaugay, Churubusco, Plattsburgh District 3, Rouses Point, South Plattsburgh, Beekmantown, Mooers, Lyon Mountain and Dannemora, with help from Quebec departments from Hemmingford, St. Paul and Lacolle.


Email Felicia Krieg: fkrieg@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @FeliciaKrieg

Felicia Krieg was raised in Plattsburgh and graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh in 2011 with a degree in English literature and print journalism. She started as a Press-Republican staff writer in 2012.

Editor Lois Clermont is a Plattsburgh native who has worked at the Press-Republican since 1976 as a reporter, news editor and now editor-in-chief. She has won a number of awards for reporting and editorial writing.

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