April 07, 2020

Roofs in Aroostook county feeling stress of snow, ice> Damage to homes, businesses continues to mount

HOULTON — The accumulated weight of snow and ice that has fallen over Aroostook County during the past few weeks continues to pose problems for roofs in the region.

About 7 p.m. Monday, the roof over the service department at Northland Motors on Route 1 in Houlton collapsed, narrowly missing an employee who had been working inside.

Dealership owner Dwight Mills said Tuesday morning there was about a foot of snow on the roof, all of which had fallen during the most recent storm last week. He said snow that fell in previous storms had slid off.

There were eight or nine vehicles in the shop at the time of the collapse, Mills said. Three or four belonged to customers, while the rest belonged to the dealership.

The roof collapsed in a lean-to fashion. The south side collapsed over the floor, with some of it coming to rest on top of vehicles parked there. The north side fell on vehicles that were up on hydraulic lifts, which prevented the roof from falling all the way to the floor.

“If it had been 3:30 in the afternoon, it could have killed somebody,” said Mills. “We were very lucky.”

“It’s a miracle,” agreed Harold Cassidy, a salesman at the Chrysler-Nissan dealership. “An hour or two earlier and two or three men could have been killed. They wouldn’t have had time to run.”

Mills said Paul Austin was working on his own truck in the shop when he heard a creaking sound overhead. He backed his truck out and went back to close the door.

As the roof started coming down, Mills said Austin “dove for the door. The wind from the snow coming down blew him right out the door 4 or 5 feet.”

Austin reportedly was not seriously hurt when he got knocked down.

An appraisal of the damage had not been done Tuesday but Mills, who was insured, said the loss could run as high as $200,000. He said the shop will be relocated to a storage building next door.

Less than 36 hours earlier, part of a 60-by-50-foot section of the 386-foot-long storage building at Ward Log Cabin Co., located at the industrial park at the Houlton Airport, collapsed. That caused at least $75,000 of damage.

“It looked like somebody set a bomb off,” said company President Mike McLaughlin. “There were no side walls, no nothing; just a bunch of rubble on the ground.

The building was used to store windows, doors and pine paneling. McLaughlin didn’t have an estimate on damage to the inventory.

Echoing the people at Northland Motors, McLaughlin said it was a good thing the collapse occurred Sunday when no one was working. He said just last Friday afternoon employees were working in the end of the building that collapsed.

Mark Russell, code enforcement officer for Houlton, said Tuesday the problem faced by many home and business owners is that roofs were not constructed to handle the excessive weight of snow and ice that has built up so far this year.

In other cases, the roofs are fine, but there is too much stress on the walls supporting them, he said. Russell said he thinks that is what happened at Northland Motors.

“This is by far an aberration as far as snow goes,” he said. “If we get another 12 inches of snow, it’s going to be problematic.”

Russell took a sample of the snow off a flat roof Tuesday and found that the 28-inch, 12-foot-square sample weighted about 30 pounds. The typical residential roof could handle up to 63 pounds per square foot, while commercial roofs could handle as much as 55 pounds, he said.

Still, Russell said those were minimums and there had been reports of greater snow depths and weights.

“A good practice right now would be to clean off your roof if you have any concern,” he said.

Finding someone to do that work might be difficult, however. Contractors in the area who do roof clearing are booked up with more work than they can handle.

George and Mary Brown, who operate Brown’s Trading Post in Houlton, have a roof-clearing side business.

Since the last storm, she said she has been getting as many as 30 calls a day from people who want their roofs cleared — as much as three times the frequency as before the storm.

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