The ominous rumbles of snow-laden roofs across western Montana aside, Missoula’s fire chief is turning thoughts to the detritus of spring.
“As a warming trend comes up, we’re rolling into the flooding situation,” Jeff Brandt said Tuesday.
That means stocking sand piles and emergency equipment at strategic spots around town in coordination with the city street department and the office of emergency services. Rain did not materialize in the valley as feared Tuesday, but the forecast calls for melting conditions, possibly in a hurry.
It doesn't mean urban avalanche danger is no longer a threat. A team of experts surveyed Mount Jumbo on Tuesday and found significant risk remains on Mount Jumbo.
"Of particular concern are the mid-elevation wind-loaded slopes above Missoula Avenue to Elm Street, where a small slide could bury a person," said a press release from the city shortly after 5 p.m. It's recommended that property owners at the base of the mountain in those areas stay out of their back yards and call 911 if they see snow slides. Residents should also call 911 immediately if they see human activity on Mount Jumbo.
All areas on the mountain remain closed. That includes the "L" trail and the U.S. West Road, which normally are accessible during the winter. The release said the winter wildlife closure on Jumbo, which traditionally ends in Jumbo's South Zone on March 15, has been extended to early April due to high snowpack on the mountain.
No more roofs fell on Tuesday, a day after Florence-Carlton School evacuated a building housing kindergarten through second-grade classes for fear of collapse, and the flat-roofed building that used to house K&C Foods on West Alder Street in Missoula tumbled to the ground.
In Bozeman, one gym roof on the Montana State University campus gave way on Thursday and a second collapsed on Saturday.
“As everybody is seeing in this freeze-thaw cycle and with this snow level, snow weight is a very real issue,” Brandt said.
Still the K&C building collapse could have been an anomaly.
“We haven’t seen any real increase in structural issues,” said Aaron Bowman, city building official who oversees building inspectors.
Under his protests, Jim Caplis, longtime owner of K&C Foods, was shut down by state meat inspectors last summer.
Bowman said he believed the building had been vacant since then.
“I don’t know what the arrangement inside the building was prior to K&C vacating the premises, so I can’t really make assumptions on what caused the issue,” he said.
Bowman said a building inspector stopped by to make sure the building was fenced off, and he’s been in contact with the property owner, who’s working on getting insurance paperwork filed to begin cleaning up the rubble.
The adjacent business to the east in the same building, formerly Fran’s Second Hand Store, has an active building permit on it. Bowman said there is interior remodeling going on under building inspector supervision. Officials asked a worker there to leave Monday prior to the collapse of the K&C Foods building. It’s shut down pending evaluation by a private structural engineer.
There was no active construction going on in the collapsed building, Bowman said.
That, said Brandt, “was just an incredible scenario.”
A neighbor called the fire department late Monday afternoon to report a crack in the side of the building at 310 W. Alder St. Fire crews found cracks on the exterior walls and a heavy snow load on the roof. Melting snow and water pooled on the roof.
“Our battalion chief, Troy Ault, made all the right calls at the appropriate times,” Brandt said Tuesday.
He called 911 and requested a city inspector and NorthWestern Energy to respond. The power company turned off gas and electricity shortly before the building began moving and timbers started snapping. Then the west end collapsed.
Brandt said Ault had just moved the command rig outside the fall zone. No one was injured. The only casualty was a ladder used to reach roof level.
Meanwhile, daytime temperatures will rise slowly over the next few days and could reach well into the 40s by the weekend. Forecasters are hinting at the low 50s on Monday and Tuesday.
Those are about normal for this time of year, but the significant amount of snow on the ground will allow overnight temperatures to drop far below par. That in turn keeps daytime temperatures “from reaching their full potential,” as the National Weather Service put it.
Daytime melting of low-elevation snow pack makes ponding of water a concern by the weekend.