- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

MADELIA, Minn. (AP) - A fast-burning fire destroyed or damaged at least a half-dozen commercial buildings in a small southern Minnesota community before firefighters brought it under control Wednesday morning, city officials said.

Stubborn winds from a storm that created blizzard-like conditions in the region Tuesday fueled the fire on Main Street in the Watonwan County community of Madelia, a city of about 2,300 southwest of Mankato. The fire took out about two-thirds of the businesses on one side of Main Street, city administrator Jane Piepgras said.

“We’re an older community and these businesses share common walls. It went fast,” Piepgras said.

A furniture store, a dentist office, a restaurant, an insurance agency and hair salon are among the businesses lost in the fire, city officials said.

“A lot of people’s livelihoods changed overnight,” Madelia Mayor Mike Grote said.

He told KTOE-AM of Mankato that two firefighters suffered smoke inhalation and eye irritation, but no other injuries were reported. One building had an upstairs apartment, but everyone made it out safely, according to Watonwan County Emergency Management Director Julie Peterson.

The fire apparently was ignited by an explosion in one of the businesses about 3 a.m. Wednesday, Grote said. The state fire marshal’s office will investigate, Peterson said.

“There’s a lot of smoke and smoldering going on right now,” Peterson said Wednesday afternoon, hours after the fire was brought under control.

Firefighters from surrounding communities helped battle the blaze with temperatures in the teens. Tanker trucks hauling water to Main Street from area municipalities were hampered by icy and snow-covered roads as well as by curious onlookers who temporarily blocked access, Grote said.

Fire crews used an excavator to knock down at least one building to try to stop the blaze from spreading.

“We had a wonderful business district. It’s going to have a big impact on the community,” Piepgras said.

Karla Angus, executive director of the Madelia Chamber of Commerce, told The Free Press of Mankato that it was in shock.

“This is the heart of the community,” she said. But she predicted residents would come together. “We’re a very strong community. We’re here to help one another.”

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