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Growing concern of structures collapsing due to snow (6 photos)

Several area farmers have had barns and sheds collapse under the weight of nearly one metre of snow this winter

THUNDER BAY - Last Sunday, when dairy farmer Gerrit Cramer woke up to begin his daily work of milking and feeding his cows, he discovered a large section of the roof on his new barn had collapsed.  

“When you wake up in the morning, you don’t expect that,” he said. “You go through a lot of emotions. Since we just got in there, we were really excited, and then this happens. It doesn’t do you a lot of good. But you press on.”

As a result of the collapse, eight cows were lost and the rest, more than 200, had to be transferred back to the old barn. But Cramer said it could have been much worse if not for the help of the farming community in the Slate River Valley.

“It’s great to be part of a community that helps out the way it does,” he said. “We would never have got it done. That’s something. To lose eight or even one, one is too many. Especially for a new facility. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

With more than 60 centimetres of snow blanketing the region this winter, there has been an increase in the number of structures damaged or collapsing under all the extra weight, and more insurance claims. 

“With the amount of snow that we have and the moisture we’ve had with days of rain, it is compacting and causing some problems and we’re concerned for our clients and safety of structures and garages and sheds,” said Jeff Jones, president of Jones and Associates Insurance.

According to Jones, garages, sheds, and commercial structures that tend to have flatter roofs are more prone to damage. Though houses can be at risk as well, depending on the snow load, how old the house is, and its construction. Ice damning can also occur along eaves troughs that can lead to water damage.

“At this point, if you are concerned that there is an above normal amount of snow sitting on your roof, you may want to contact a professional to give advice about cleaning it off,” Jones said.

Fred and Lynn Boulter, who run Boulterdale Stables in Murillo, became very concerned when snow began accumulating on top of their riding arena, not just for the building, but the safety of the horses and riders.

“It’s a clear span building and I was a little nervous about it and I heard a few buildings were collapsing in the area, so I got some friends together and we shoveled off the main riding arena which is 50 by 100 feet, and I believe we shoveled off 25 to 30 tons of snow,” Fred Boulter said.

“Buildings and material things can be replaced, but if a friend of ours was out riding their horse in our riding arena and it collapsed and killed them, then it’s a real disaster and tragedy. So we decided to do what we could to prevent any accidents.”

Many commercial buildings, barns, and sheds can be built with metal roofs that allow the snow to slide off, but the weather early this winter prevented that from happening.

“We’ve had lots of snow before, but I think what the main catch this year is we got wet rain and snow in December and the metal that usually allows the snow to slide off, held the snow and it just kept building up and building up until it was four or five feet deep,” said Lynn Boulter.

Fred and Lynn estimated that there was between four and five feet of snow on the roof of the riding arena and they already had an older structure collapse under the weight of the snow earlier this year.

According to Jones, even a foot or a foot-and-a-half of snow can cause damage to some structures.  

Jones is also advising that vehicles inside garages or sheds are not covered under a home insurance policy and damage to vehicles, if not insured under an auto policy, would not be covered due to a collapsed roof.

But Jones warns home owners to be cautious because shoveling roofs can damage vents, shingles, and eaves troughs.  

“We are concerned about safety,” Jones added. “We don’t want people getting up on the roofs and shoveling and falling.”

On Wednesday, contractors were helping remove the snow from the remaining section of the roof on Cramer’s barn. An engineer is also expected to come Wednesday afternoon to assess the structure, which was constructed in 2017.

“I have no idea what they are going to have to do to fix it,” he said. “If there was no snow on there, it wouldn’t have happened. It should have been able to take that amount of snow.”

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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