MADELIA, MINN. – Pledging to support the town in whatever way he can, Gov. Mark Dayton came to Madelia Friday to meet with merchants struggling to rebuild after a fire destroyed seven Main Street buildings and shuttered at least eight businesses.
At a packed American Legion hall across an alley from the scene of Wednesday morning’s fire, Dayton, along with other state and local leaders, took questions from about 100 people, including the owners of a hair salon, a restaurant and other businesses lost in the blaze.
“We’re not going to walk away and disappear,” Dayton told the crowd, addressing concerns from some that the state would soon forget about Madelia and move on.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and state Reps. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, and Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, along with state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, were also in attendance.
The crowd applauded whenever someone mentioned the local Fire Department — some 100 firefighters from Madelia and surrounding communities fought the blaze, but no one was injured, said Madelia Mayor Mike Grote.
Dayton called their efforts “heroic,” noting that they battled the fire as a major snowstorm passed through the region.
Dayton drew applause when he said he would issue an executive order to help Summer De La Cruz, owner of the burned down Tressa Veona Salon, who said she hasn’t been able to reach anyone at the state licensing board to ask about moving into temporary quarters. Dayton told her to pick a spot from among several that have been offered and he would ensure the business could reopen.
“It’s devastating,” De La Cruz said. “I know we’ll come back, and I know we’ll be better than ever, but it was a chapter I wasn’t ready to close.”
Citing the complicated nature of the recovery, with multiple businesses each filing their own insurance claims, Grote asked Dayton and the legislators Friday to use any “out-of-the-box” solutions they can find to help. While the politicians pledged support, Dayton warned Grote and the townspeople against thinking that he or someone else had a “magic wand” that would fix everything.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Walz said, “but I think there does at least need to be a sense of urgency from people that every day we wait, that’s someone out of a business.”
No cause yet
The state fire marshal’s office continues to investigate the cause. Its work will continue into next week as CenterPoint Energy conducts tests on local gas lines.
Fire Chief Mark Denn praised his firefighters and those who came from neighboring towns, as well as Jim Pettersen, the manager of a local Culligan water store. As the fire raced from one adjoining building to the next Wednesday morning, firefighters got ahead of it by tearing down the Culligan storefront before the flames reached it. Pettersen was at the scene and told Denn to go ahead and do it, said Denn.
“There’s no way to stop one of those fires unless you sacrifice something,” Denn said, adding that Pettersen was a former firefighter.
Cleanup efforts were underway Friday even as wisps of smoke rose from the rubble. A contractor vacuumed the walls and ceiling of a smoke-damaged insurance office that sits across Main Street from the fire scene. Portable air filters the size of a coffee table hummed in the lobby of the Farmers State Bank, where tellers said the stench of smoke was much stronger on Thursday. Outside, soot and ice covered utility poles, streetlights, curbs and the sidewalk.
Fundraising also is underway to help the town and individual businesses. Several are on the website GoFundMe, and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation said it has raised $60,000 so far to meet short-term needs. Greater Mankato Growth Inc. also launched a “Madelia Strong” fundraising appeal.