The weight of accumulating snow continued to take its toll on Inland Northwest businesses Friday with a series of roof collapses apparently triggered by 4 to 6 inches of new snow that fell early in the day.
Fire officials said they are worried that additional snow this weekend could set off more collapses.
No one had been injured in any of the dozens of roof failures across the region, and Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said he hopes the region’s luck continues.
“The next couple of days are going to be dicey,” he said Friday.
Commercial buildings, rather than homes, appeared at greatest risk, a Spokane building official said.
Forecasters for the National Weather Service called for 6 inches of snow in Spokane and 8 inches in Coeur d’Alene on Sunday night and Monday.
On Friday morning, firefighters sped from one roof collapse call to another for several hours after the snow stopped falling. At Buck’s Tire and Automotive, 918 W. Mallon Ave., they arrived to find the owner, who had been up on the roof clearing snow before it collapsed, uninjured.
“I heard it start to go and I had to get off,” Jeff Roma said.
In Coeur d’Alene, a business owner and his dog escaped a building at 2615 N. Fourth St. just before the roof caved in.
“My shop dog, Macine, and I ran out as it was coming down,” said Brian Rice, who owns Bedrock Jewelers, one of two tenants in the building.
The roof collapsed over a vacant space.
“Most people know it as the old Wonder Bread store,” Rice said.
Aside from Rice and his dog, the building was empty. A second business, Abadan Reprographics & Imaging, was closed.
The cave-in occurred at 9 a.m. Rice heard popping and cracking, and Macine, a yellow Lab, headed for the door with her tail between her legs. Rice followed her out while the eastern section of the building imploded.
Rice was waiting for a structural engineer to assess the building. He’s hoping the section he rents is still sound. Most of the jewelry store’s trade is repair and custom work.
With Valentine’s Day and wedding season coming up, Rice said he’s heading into the busiest time of his year.
Part of a commercial building at 140 E. Spruce Ave. in Coeur d’Alene also collapsed. Lenard Allen, owner of Allen Pest Control, was able to move trucks out of space that he rents in the building.
Though his space was still standing Friday, the ceiling was buckling and showing signs of stress.
“I don’t want to go back in there,” Allen said. Rescuing more equipment wasn’t worth the risk, he said.
The cave-in occurred at the rear of the building, which also houses Accurate Edge.
The owner of the building was calling Avista Utilities to turn off gas to the structure.
Back in Spokane, the collapse at Buck’s Tire and Automotive occurred in a service bay area adjacent to the tire showroom and office. Two other adjacent buildings were also threatened, fire officials said.
Trusses on a second building appeared to be sagging, so the Fire Department issued a “stop use” order for that portion of the tire business.
A third building facing Monroe Street also was being checked for potential failure, Battalion Chief Craig Cornelius said.
A similar situation drew firefighters to Interior Solutions at 2812 N. Pittsburg St. just before 11 a.m. Officials initially feared a worker might have been in the business when its roof failed, but heat-sensing instruments indicated that no one was likely inside the rubble of broken timbers and roofing. Firefighters scanned the rubble from the end of a firetruck aerial ladder.
Contact with the worker was made a short time later.
Earlier, seven Spokane firetrucks were called to a commercial building at 7011 N. Division St. where the entire roof collapsed and raised the threat of a gas leak.
Businesses housed in the strip mall were Futon Visions, Added Touch Framing and Donuts to Go, according to Schaeffer.
Division southbound from Cozza to Francis avenues was closed during the response.
Firefighters were also called to Spokane Hardware Supply Inc., 2001 E. Trent Ave., because of a partially collapsed roof.
No injuries were reported.
An awning that collapsed at Pacific Northwest Medical, 220 W. Indiana St., also damaged windows along the front of the building.
The risk of roof collapse caused Costco on North Division to close Friday and to hire a contractor to shovel its roof. In addition, three Wal-Mart stores were closed in the region – in north Spokane, Airway Heights and Post Falls – while snow was cleared from their roofs.
Roofing and excavation companies were hiring part-time workers to fill the need.
Roof collapses earlier in the week occurred at Rosauers supermarket on West Francis Avenue at Five Mile; at a building housing Capel Rug Gallery, 1321 N. Mullan Road; Hancock Fabrics, 1020 W. Francis Ave.; Global Fitness, 110 W. Price Ave.; and Trinity Baptist Church, 6528 N. Monroe St.
In Spokane alone, at least 28 roof collapses occurred this week, city officials said.
City building director Joe Wizner on Friday advised owners and tenants of buildings with flat or very low-sloped roofs to remove snow immediately.
“The low-slope roofs like warehouses and commercial buildings (strip malls) are probably the most susceptible to failure,” Wizner said in a prepared statement.
“With more snow in the forecast, the loads will get heavier and threaten more buildings.”
Spokane Fire Department officials also said snow may obstruct boiler vents on roofs and lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide inside buildings, and that some older vents may rise only 2 to 3 feet above the roofline.
On Thursday, the weather service reported 22 inches of snow on the ground at its office northwest of Airway Heights.
The snowpack had a water equivalent of 3.62 inches and weighed 19 pounds per square foot.
Most residential roofs can hold at least 30 pounds per square foot and drain water during periods of above-freezing temperatures such as those Thursday.