What started out as a fun-filled Labor Day weekend ended in tragedy for Spring Valley couple Tom and Kim Mosher.
As part of their family tradition, Kim, her sisters and their children spent much of the weekend at Forestville State Park. Tom spent the day enjoying a motorcycle ride and then he and his son-in-law Emery Swartzentruber joined the family around 4 p.m.
Just over two hours later, the couple’s daughter, Heather Swartzentruber, received a text from a friend, which was quickly followed by a picture of their family home of 40 years up in flames.
The Swartzentrubers live across the highway from the couple, so the family was able to also watch the horror of the growing fire on their home security system.
“My wife and I jumped in the car and as you can imagine the things going through our heads just thinking about what started this fire,” Tom said. “By the time we got there the firemen had it knocked down but it was pretty chaotic with lots of firetrucks everywhere and firemen hyped up about getting more water.”
Fire departments from Spring Valley, Grand Meadow and Stewartville all joined forces to battle the blaze.
The fire was first called in by Morgan Kaster and Shinead McConnell, who both happened to be driving by at the time of the incident.
“They were so emotional because they couldn’t do more,” Tom shared. “They drove by here and at that time there nothing but a little bit of smoke and a tiny bit of fire showing at the east end of the house. We watched in our video and at that time you couldn’t see anything going on. Within about two minutes you could start to see the smoke and fire and these two women were running back and forth trying to find a garden hose and calling 911.”
Unfortunately, once the flames ignited the home was quickly consumed.
“In the video, once you see the flame grow for about three minutes and it started going up the house, then you see it blow out a small window and from one end of the house to the other in 15 seconds the whole house was engulfed,” Tom explained. “The fire marshal said there was so much smoke smoldering that once it got oxygen it probably ignited all the gasses, almost like a small explosion.
“Without those two I know we would’ve lost the big shed. They are really the heroes of the whole incident. Being so young and to take that kind of action is pretty impressive. We could see on the video where three cars went by after the house was totally engulfed and they just kept going, so I know it wouldn’t have been reported until it was fully engulfed if it wasn’t for them stopping. What they did was huge.”
It was found the fire began on the outside of the house where the main electrical line came into the home, which was fortunate for the couple as they were able to salvage items from the basement.
“It’s the stuff that can’t be replaced that is really devastating. My wife lost her brand new jeep and my pickup, but those can be replaced,” Tomsaid of the lost of sentimental items and family heirlooms. “It’s getting a little better over time, but the first week was horrible. Going to the house and trying to sort through everything. Pretty much everything is a total loss; if it wasn’t burnt it got the smoke and water.”
For the Moshers, the home had become more than just a structure; it was a part of the family, a witness to 40 years of memories.
“We graduated from high school in 1981 and we bought this house in 1982. We raised our whole family here. It was just a two bedroom rambler, but that was our dream house,” Tom expressed. “My wife has always said her worst nightmare
would be to have to build a house. And now here we are.”
The couple has been living with their daughter and her family since the fire, but plan to move into a townhome in Spring Valley while they handle the clean up of the home. They have already met with builder Eric Mundfrom to plan for their new home, which should be completed by fall of 2024.
The fire has taught the couple several things, such as the importance of fireproof safes. The Moshers’ important documents were all saved because they were secured in their safe.
Another unfortunate lesson was the need to update replacement costs for insurance.
“Our insurance has been really great and not blaming them at all, but we were very underinsured and didn’t realize it,” Tom said.
He also shared all the unanticipated costs. Asbestos was found in the ceiling, so now the family has to pay thousands of dollars to have the burnt section professionally removed and disposed. A new mound septic system will be needed for the new home and they will have to pay those costs out of pocket.
But according to Tom, the couple is trying to focus on the good things that have come from this experience and move on from the bad.
They have had generous donations of hay for the horses, Travis Warmka has been assisting the couple as they try to salvage damaged items, a neighbor has lent a pickup and a dump trailer to help haul the house away and high school classmate Scott Osterhus loaned them a vehicle until the couple is able to get a replacement. The couple have received gift cards, clothing and food, all of which has made this experience easier for the Moshers.
“Man, are we glad we live in a small town. The outpouring has been incredible,” Tom said. “We had people stopping and offering help even before the fire was put out.”
The experience has given Tom fresh perspective on his long career helping the people of Fillmore County through his work as the police chief of Fountain and Ostrander, as well as the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office. The couple also served a combined 17 years on the Spring Valley Ambulance service.
“It’s hard because after 25 years of working in law enforcement I was the one that responded and tried to serve these people and get resources for them, protect them and in an instant I’m on the other end of the stick,” Tom shared.
Though Tom has said he and Kim “aren’t the kind of people to ask for help; we’d rather do it ourselves,” family friend Sherry Vlasak figured out a way to give them the help anyway.
Vlasak has brought the community together to create a benefit for the couple, which will be held on October 14 at The Isle of Dreams in Spring Valley.
“We just wanted to help,” Vlasak said of the benefit.
There will be a bake sale held at noon, a silent auction which will run from noon until 2 p.m., then a live auction that will kick off at 2:30. There will be food, a full bar and live music from Matt and Brenda Stier to enjoy.
Donations for the auction can be dropped off at the Wolf’s Den or the Isle of Dreams by 3 p.m. on Friday, October 13.
Those looking to help monetarily can drop off donations at Home Federal Saving Bank in Spring Valley.
While Tom was hesitant about the idea of a benefit, he has been overwhelmed by the generosity, “There are people donating from everywhere. There are checks, money and donations for the auction coming from Wisconsin, Iowa and even Texas. I don’t even know how they know about it. With the benefit there are a lot of people involved and it takes a lot of time and organization. It’s a nightmare that we’re living, but it’s the people that are keeping us going every day and getting us through all this. We’ve never needed help, just did everything ourselves and in a matter of seconds we’re totally homeless and have people stopping in the road while it’s still on fire, offering help. It’s something we’ll never forget.”
For questions about the benefit contact Sherry Vlasak at (507) 421-5444 or Tyler Schiltz at (712) 251-1159.