Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
A historic building in downtown Madera, formerly Yosemite Hotel and McMahan’s Furniture, erupts into flames late Monday afternoon. Witnesses reported seeing smoke coming from the ventilation ducts of the mini mall, according to police officers.
A fast-moving fire Monday afternoon destroyed the historic Yosemite Hotel building on the corner of E Street and Yosemite Avenue in front of crowds of onlookers who were standing back because of the intense heat.
Traffic on State Route 145 was detoured as fire crews attempted to battle the fierce flames.
Once the flames broke through the roof and fully engulfed the building as fire fighters concentrated on protecting adjacent structures, including Believers Church and the Madera Intermodal Transportation Center.
Employees in the lower level of the building told officers they began smelling smoke coming from heating ducts a little after 3 p.m., right before the flames erupted.
At the peak of the fire, the flames, driven by gusty winds, reached 40 to 50 feet high.
The fire destroyed the building in less than two hours in spite of the best efforts of some 50 fire fighters on scene. They fought the flames with a combined, 10-engine, two-ladder-truck response from CalFire, the city of Merced, Rolling Hills and Fresno city and county.
Several startled motorists were unable to move their vehicles out of the intense heat next to the building and were forced to watch them explode and burn.
The facade of the building collapsed onto Yosemite Avenue with a huge flash of smoke and a bursting wall of flame.
No injuries were reported but it may be days before fire fighters can fully make entry into the smoldering rubble to do a more complete search.
The bottom of the 20,000-square-foot, not-sprinklered, two-story brick building had been coverted into an open, indoor mall of smaller shops in the last decade. The second level of the building had long been vacant but secured they said, and used only by tenants for light storage. A recent fire department walk-through the week before had revealed no break-ins or vandalism according to fire officials.
Heavy black smoke blowing in a north and westerly direction caused smoke damage to adjacent downwind businesses on E Street.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.