Fire burns iconic former Madera Athletic Club building


DJ Becker of The Madera Tribune Firefighters pour water on the raging fire that broke out Thursday night at the former athletic club on Sunset Avenue at Orchard Avenue.

A fast moving fire destroyed the vacant complex of buildings once known as The Madera Athletic Club in the 1800 block of Sunset Avenue. No injuries were reported in the fire.

Madera Battalion Fire Chief Chris Trindade said the fire was reported about 10:15 p.m. Thursday but the fire had likely been burning at least 15 to 20 minutes inside before it broke through the roof of the empty structure.

“The power had been shut off to the building some time ago and there was evidence of squatters coming and going, and living inside,” Trindade said. “The building was 50-75 percent involved (in flames) on our arrival. Our initial investigation shows the area of origin to be inside, in the lobby area. The fire burned through the wooden walls and then ran into other wooden interior structures. The heavy rubber matting was also still present inside and that also burned ... contributing to the heavy black smoke plume that was visible over the area.”

Firefighters used their newly-acquired city ladder fire truck with a 105-foot tall extension boom to pour 1,250 gallons of water a minute onto the burning building, and to protect existing adjacent homes.

Power was cut as a precaution to approximately 600 homes in the area for about two hours as fire crews poured water through and worked over the power supply lines.

Most of the concrete block exterior walls and some of the rear of the structure were left standing after the fire.

The new owner of the building complex, reportedly a local doctor, had been before the planning commission with plans to build condos or townhouses on the .85 of an acre property and small parking lot on Orchard Avenue.

The approximately 6,500 square foot-structure had been empty and plagued by homeless squatters since late 2016 when the city planning commission pulled the subsequent owners fitness center conditional use permit after frequent noise and parking complaints from the neighborhood.

Other residents complained loudly and blamed the city as they watched the once proud facility, now empty, fall into disrepair and be slowly stripped by vandals of it’s copper clad facade, air conditioning components, copper pipe and other recyclable materials.

According to tax records the fitness complex, built in 1972, once contained an indoor Olympic sized swimming pool, indoor basketball court and two racquetball courts, weight and exercise rooms, along with a smaller second story and had been added onto several times with other additions for miscellaneous purposes.

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