Inspectors point to wood rot in fatal California balcony collapse

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 23, 2015 2:54 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Wooden support beams sheared off in the collapse of a fourth-floor apartment balcony that killed six people in Berkeley, California, last week were found to be severely rotted, city building inspectors said in a report issued on Tuesday.

The report did not directly address how building and safety inspectors believe the wooden joists became so badly decayed that they failed just eight years after the five-story Library Gardens apartment complex was completed.

But the analysis recommends new building regulations that call for greater ventilation of enclosed structures exposed to weather, such as balconies, landings, decks and stairways, and for new inspections of all such spaces within six months of enactment of the proposed ordinance.

"The inspectors observed that the deck joist ends protruding from the exterior wall appeared to be severely dry rotted," the nine-page memorandum said. Dry rot also was found in the horizontal beams supporting the third-floor balcony below it, posing a danger of structural failure there as well.

The report also does not explicitly discuss whether the fallen balcony should have been sturdy enough, under normal circumstances, to safely bear the weight of the 13 people who were on the deck when it collapsed.

All 13, mostly college students from Ireland working in the San Francisco Bay area for the summer on temporary visas, plunged to the street below when the balcony gave way during a birthday celebration on June 16.

Three men and three women in their early 20s, all of them Irish students except for an American friend who was with them, died in the collapse, just two blocks from the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. Seven others were hospitalized.

(Reporting by Emmett Berg in San Francisco Writing and additional reporting by By Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)