Investigation Into Mulholland Grocery Fire In Malvern 'Could Take Months'

The north and east walls of the Malvern Grocery Building in Malvern collapsed during the high winds and thunderstorm that passed through southwest Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 15.

The collapsed front wall of the Mullholland Grocery building in Malvern.

The collapsed wall on the north side of the Mulholland Grocery building.

A demolition crew was taking down the Mulholland Grocery building in Malvern on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

The Iowa State Fire Marshal and insurance company representatives are continuing their investigation into a fire that destroyed the Mulholland Grocery building in Malvern Dec. 13.

“Actually, it (investigation) is fairly slow. The investigation has been delayed because of the structural integrity of the building. – specifically, the exterior walls,” John Ticer, special agent with the Iowa State Fire Marshal’s Office, said Monday. “The insurance company has hired a demolition company to finish taking down the exterior walls that Mother Nature did not take care of the other night.”

In his mention of “Mother Nature,” Ticer was referring to the additional damage the building sustained when extremely high winds and a severe thunderstorm passed through Mills County last Wednesday.
Mills County Emergency Management Director Larry Hurst said the north and east walls of the building collapsed within minutes of each other.

“Before the storm hit, because of the wind, the north wall collapsed partially. During the storm, the street side wall came down,” Hurst said.

Ticer said because of the structural concerns, investigators had yet to conduct a “walk-through” of the building as of Monday morning.

“At that point, there’s still issues in the interior with the integrity of the floor system,” he said. “That combined with the need for some heavy equipment, public investigators, myself in particular, will be coming to work with the insurance companies that will be involved.”

Ticer said the structural issues complicate the investigation that will likely last well into 2022.

“Nobody wants to delay it any more than what we have to because obviously folks want some answers into what happened there. That’s an integral part of that community and a historical location for Malvern,” Ticer said.

“Obviously, folks want some answers if they’re out there, but unfortunately in this particular situation, it’s just going to be delayed probably until after the first of the year.”

Ticer said once investigators do make their way into the remains of the structure, there may be some physical items that require further examination.

“When we start looking at electrical wiring, electrical components that are in the building – compressors and things of that nature – that all gets done typically in a laboratory setting,” he said. So, literally, this investigation could take months.”

Over the past week, grocery store owner Tom Mulholland has expressed his appreciation on social media to the dozens of firefighters and other first responders who pitched in at the scene of the fire. He also thanked friends and patrons for their acts of kindness and words of support. No decision has been made on the future of the store that attracted customers from throughout the region.

“It’s too early to say what the future holds for Mulholland Grocery, but once I have gotten through the investigations and insurance process I will have a plan and let you know,” Mulholland said in a Facebook post Thursday.

“Please remember that I will keep you posted and if you didn’t see it from me, then don’t pay attention to whatever rumors are bound to happen. I don’t know anything yet so how could someone else?

“Thank God everyone is safe, thank you to hundreds of volunteers that worked countless hours to make things as safe as possible for everyone around, and thanks to the hundreds and thousands that have reached out from all over the country. Your support has been humbling for someone like myself.”

The Opinion-Tribune

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