By John Lauritsen

MADELIA, Minn. (WCCO) — A small Minnesota town scarred by a raging fire is on the road to recovery.

Flames ripped through more than a half-dozen businesses along Main Street in downtown Madelia nearly one year ago. More than 100 firefighters struggled in the snowy weather to put it out.

When the smoke cleared, little remained of the heart of the town.

“It was awful. I cried when I drove by and saw it,” president of Madelia Strong Tom Osborne said. “Losing that much of your downtown is unthinkable,” president of Madelia Strong Tom Osborne said.

It was a perfect storm that fueled the fire. The night before, a blizzard forced MnDOT to close the roads around town. That slowed down firetrucks while wind fed the flames. The water tower emptied, and more water had to be brought in from other cities.

“When I pulled out of the driveway, I could see it was more than a small fire. This was an inferno,” Madelia resident Brian McCabe said.

McCabe lost the building that housed his American Family Insurance business. When the fire was finally put out, seven buildings on had been destroyed, displacing nine businesses. But donations from around the country quickly poured in, and thanks to the non-profit “Madelia Strong,” 11 months later, main street is rising from the ashes.

“We made an agreement to see this through — that we didn’t want this to be the end of downtown, that we wanted to rebuild,” McCabe said.

McCabe’s open house is next week. Jim Pettersen’s Culligan business officially re-opened Friday.

“We all stuck together and got this accomplished,” Petterson said. “I don’t think it would have happened if one had fallen out.”

The city still isn’t completely out of the woods yet. They’re hoping for help from the state to pay for uninsured clean-up expenses and other losses. But the rally cry that got them this far is still seemingly everywhere in town. It’s a sign of just how far the city has come in such a short amount of time.

“It’s been less than a year. That tells you the resolve of this community,” Osborne said.

State money meant to help Madelia got tied up in the tax-bill mistake at the Capitol last year. Gov. Mark Dayton’s plan still includes more than $330,000 for the city and county over several years.

John Lauritsen

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