Arrow-right Camera


Snow piling up, piling on

Another roof collapses, but snow removal can be risky

Prompted by reports of roofs collapsing under the weight of snow, many Spokane residents got an elevated look at the landscape Tuesday, as they began clearing their own homes or businesses.

They included several neighbors of Trinity Baptist Church, 6528 N. Monroe St., where the gym was destroyed by its collapsing roof before daylight Tuesday.

“Praise the Lord it happened at night,” when no one was in the building that often is full of kids on Wednesday evenings, said Dave Niblock, a church member.

Before the morning was over, rescue divers searched the pool at Global Fitness, 110 W. Price Ave., to make sure no one was trapped under its collapsed roof. Patrons had been evacuated before debris started falling, but authorities wanted to make sure.

Other businesses took precautions.

Rosauers Supermarkets Inc. closed three of its Spokane stores and one in Deer Park for snow removal Tuesday, a response to Monday’s partial collapse of the roof at the company’s Five Mile store. The company expected to have the stores reopened by 5 a.m. today.

Spokane Public Schools removed snow from portions of some school roofs after consulting with an engineer, said Tim Wood, the district’s interim director of maintenance and operations.

Twelve inmates from Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women spent part of Tuesday shoveling snow from the flat roof of Spokane’s Eleanor Chase House Work Release Center, 427 W. Seventh Ave. The Washington Department of Corrections moved all 16 Chase House residents to Pine Lodge on Saturday as a precaution, said Helen Biddulph, Pine Lodge spokeswoman. They were expected to return late Tuesday or today, she said.

Meanwhile, some homeowners who have watched the snow pile up since Dec. 17 climbed ladders to their own rooftops.

“I’ve shoveled all the vents and one side of the roof,” Glenn Wunderlich of Mead said after climbing down from his 1997 manufactured home. “I’m just concerned that the weight per square foot is going to exceed what the roof can take.”

Ken Kosch said so far this month, he’s sold 60 aluminum snow rakes with 16-foot handles, just like the ones his dad used to make extra money during a severe winter in the 1990s. Kosch sells them for $75 apiece on craigslist, where he cautions potential customers that “an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of repairs.”

“People are concerned about their houses,” Kosch said. “One guy had his chicken pen collapse on him. He bought one (later) to save the chicken coop.”

Public safety officials, meanwhile, are warning that it’s dangerous to climb snowy roofs, and say that most pitched roofs will be able to shed the snow without damage.

Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer of the Spokane Fire Department said that since the first storm, he’s treated two people who broke legs by falling off roofs. There likely have been others that he’s not aware of, Schaeffer said.

“Climbing on your roof in the winter is a risky venture,” Schaeffer said. “Climbing a pitched roof, unless you’re a professional and are tied off and have training – I don’t want to see anyone doing that.”

But after Monday’s dump of wet, heavy snow, the owners of flat-roofed buildings need to take a look at the rafters and other structural supports and make sure damage hasn’t been done, Schaeffer said. They probably should remove the snow as a precaution, or hire a professional to do so, Schaeffer said.

Aaron Zwanzig, a Spokane engineer who advised school officials this week, said it’s impossible without an inspection to know whether any particular building should have its roof cleared. The aluminum awnings on many homes came with paperwork that should stipulate a maximum weight load, Zwanzig said.

In addition to risking life and limb, homeowners who scrape away the snow can permanently damage a roof, said Wendy Rose, spokeswoman for the Institute for Business & Home Safety, a national organization of home insurers. A shovel inadvertently placed under a shingle can cause leaks, for instance.

Rose said ice is more likely than snow to damage roofs because it can force water up under the shingles. But the time to prevent that damage is before winter, by adding extra insulation and ventilation to attics prone to heating – steps that will prevent rooftop thawing and freezing that cause the damage.

Schaeffer said homeowners who hire someone to clear their roofs should check references and make sure the contractor is licensed.

He recently heard from a Hillyard woman who paid $350 to have her roof cleared. The men showed up without shovels and had to borrow the homeowner’s ladder. When they left, her driveway was buried under the snow they’d kicked and pushed off the roof.

“I felt so bad for this lady,” Schaeffer said. “She’s by herself, she lost her husband and here there are people willing to take advantage of her.”

Click here to comment on this story »