For the first eight and a half years of Madera’s existence, she was spared the horrors of a major downtown fire. Then came 1885, and her luck ran out. In two successive years, Madera suffered dangerous conflagrations, and it was only through the pioneer persistence of the founders of the town that it ever recovered.
On the evening of June 18, 1885, a fire broke out in what had formerly been Barnett’s drug store but had been recently occupied by Mary Plate, a widow with three children who lived on the premises and operated a candy store. Mrs. Plate and her children had just gone to bed when one of her kerosene lamps exploded, causing the fire.
The flames quickly spread east and west, taking Ragsdale’s Blacksmith and Wheelwright shop on the east of Mrs. Plate’s place and Merino’s Blacksmith Shop on the west. The fire also threatened the Arlington Hotel.
The fact that downtown Madera was spared complete destruction was due to the quick work of citizens who rushed to the scene and “worked like beavers” to keep the flames from spreading. At the time, Madera did not have a fire department...