Dairy barns collapse under weight of snow

  • Jan. 25, 2011 7:00 p.m.
George Slomp salvages materials from the damaged section of the dairy barn’s roof that collapsed under the weight of snow. At least four dairy barns in the Rimbey area caved in under similar circumstances in just a few days.

George Slomp salvages materials from the damaged section of the dairy barn’s roof that collapsed under the weight of snow. At least four dairy barns in the Rimbey area caved in under similar circumstances in just a few days.

By TREENA MIELKE

Rimbey’s fire chief says the collapse of at least four barn roofs in the area last week, most likely caused from an accumulation of snow, should be a warning to everyone, including residential home owners, to keep an eye on the build up of snow on their roofs.

“Houses, especially those with flatter roofs, are at risk, too,” said Fire Chief John Weisgerber. He noted the barns that have suffered damage have been large structures with long roofs, but urges everyone, not just farmers, to take the necessary precautions to keep huge amounts of snow from accumulating on their roofs.

“We’ve had a lot of snow this year and it seems to be something that is happening,” he said.

The type of snow, not the quantity is what caused a large portion of the 23-year-old barn roof to collapse on his dairy farm west of Rimbey, said Jan Slomp.

“The snow is not the normal snow; it is a way heavier.”

Slomp discovered part of his metal barn roof had collapsed when he went out to milk at 6 a.m. Jan. 14.

“The area where the cows were laying in the stalls had completely collapsed along the south wall. They all got out. There was handful stuck and we spent an hour and a half getting them out, but we got them all out alive.”

The Rimbey-area dairy farmer said there was a large accumulation of snow in the centre of the roof causing it to cave in.

“The day before I noticed the wind blew the snow over the top from the north to the south half and in the middle there was at least five feet of snow piled up. I didn’t realize how heavy that snow was. Despite the cold temperatures, it was heavy wet snow. I think that is very unusual. Maybe the upper atmospheres are warmer than they used to be.”

A build up of snow on the metal roof of a barn belonging to Heini Hehli, who farms 11 kilometres northeast of Rimbey, also caused this structure to collapse, the dairy farmer said.

He discovered the entire middle section of his barn had collapsed during the night when he and his son, Markus came out to milk early Monday

morning.

His wife had heard a roar in the night, but neither of them had any idea of what had happened. Seeing the barn roof collapsed and his animals in distress was a huge shock.

“I thought, oh my God, where do we start?” he said.

Despite the initial shock, the father and son team immediately sprang into action and with the help of a couple of neighbours were able to rescue most of the cows. However, out of a hundred animals, four were lost, and, Hehli said a few more might not pull through.

Hehli said his insurance will cover the damage, adding that an adjuster has come out and discussed the situation. He is also grateful for the help from his neighbours and the fact no one was injured in the incident.

“We could have been in the barn when it happened,” he said.

Slomp is also grateful for the support his neighbours gave him when the incident occurred, however, he was very disappointed to learn his insurance would not cover the damage.

“It’s a big disappointment. We’ve paid in 20 years over $100,000 in insurance premiums, but the local insurance agent tells me that it’s not covered.”

Slomp estimates the damage caused by the collapsing roof to be between $150,000 and $175,000.

He urges policyholders to read the small print when buying insurance coverage.

“Really read all the details of the insurance policies. I think these companies have lots of angles to argue that things are not covered. If it was wind, it was clearly covered, if it was snow, it was covered, but snow drifted on there (the roof) by wind makes it not qualified is my interpretation of the policy.”

Slomp is not sure if he should seek legal advice.

“These companies are so big, they usually win. I’m angry, but in the meantime, we’ll just do what needs to be done.”

And even though he is disappointed with his insurance coverage, he was pleasantly surprised to receive so much support from his neighbours and to learn that farmers were there when he needed them.

“The other boost there is the neighbours, On the first day we were nine people here, all farmers. We worked the rest of the day until 11 at night to have an emergency wall/roof built, a small area in front of the parlour, to clean out the hay shed and have bedding there so the cows walking there can freely move back and forth. We didn’t lose any animals and only two hours of milk production lost. And on the second day we had another group of five or six people. They just did whatever they could do. They, too, were all farmers.”

He said people who do not have livestock do not understand what it is like to go through a disaster such as he and his family experienced.

“We farmers with livestock, we are a different breed. You don’t even think about yourself, you tap into adrenalin. We got them all out alive, most of them had a scratch or two, but we got them all out alive.

“We didn’t lose any animals, and only two hours of milk production lost. Can you imagine 55 people living in a building and a whole roof collapsing and the people coming out of the rubble and in two hours they function as if nothing had happened?

Rimbey firefighters responded to an incident Jan. 18 where a barn roof had collapsed killing several animals at the Beat Fischer farm. Weisgerber said fire crews cut holes in the walls and managed to rescue about 70 of the livestock.

Roofs collapsing under the heavy weight of snow is an unusual occurrence, but in light of the recent incidents, being aware of the possibility may save lives.

The seasonal forecast posted by Environment Canada at http://www.weather office states the Red Deer area can expect higher than normal precipitation in January, February and March.