Inspectors investigate cause of fatal Anchorage roof collapse

a man pushes snow off the roof of a gym with a box of flowers in front
Contractors clear snow off the roof of a strip mall in Anchorage’s Taku/Campbell neighborhood on Feb. 21, 2023. Four days earlier, Turnagain CrossFit was hosting a competition when part of its roof collapsed, killing one person inside. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

City and state experts are investigating Friday’s fatal roof collapse at a CrossFit gym in Anchorage. 

Three people were initially unaccounted for after the roof of the warehouse-style building partially collapsed on Friday evening, minutes before a CrossFit competition was set to begin. Anchorage Fire Department Assistant Chief Alex Boyd said one person was able to get out on their own. Another was pinned, eventually freed by firefighters and taken to the hospital. A third person was found dead inside. 

Tuesday morning, contractors cleared snow off the intact sections of the roof at the building, located near Old Seward Highway and 76th Avenue. A crate full of frosty flowers sat out front as a memorial to the woman killed, Sadie Huffer

Boyd said there is a lot of concern that heavy snow loads may have contributed to the collapse. 

“The snow load that we have now is near record numbers,” he said. “However, the codes in the city are designed to carry this snow load without concern.” 

The municipality is responsible for investigating what happened. 

“They’re working with state inspectors just to ensure anything they find can be communicated statewide,” Boyd said. “Cause any time a building collapse occurs, folks are worried.”

Anchorage Fire Department responders with shovels near a collapsed roof.
One person was killed Friday in a roof collapse in South Anchorage. (Anchorage Fire Department photo)

Boyd said there was a secondary collapse on Sunday affecting another section of the building. No one was inside at the time.

“They’re still in the process of investigating and clearing that building for structural stability,” he said. 

Boyd didn’t want to speculate on the specifics of this case. But he said, in general, freeze/thaw cycles can cause heavier ice to accumulate on roofs, and unpermitted adjustments can also contribute to roof failures. 

The municipality’s building safety officials could not immediately be reached for comment. 

Boyd said about 40 firefighters plus heavy equipment from Anchorage street maintenance and the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility were involved in the initial response. 

Meanwhile, about 45 miles north of Anchorage, the Palmer Public Library remains closed indefinitely, after its roof collapsed last week. The Anchorage Daily News reports that Palmer officials initially blamed the snow load, and planned to do a structural analysis. 

The Anchorage Office of Emergency Management says signs that a roof is under stress include new cracks in drywall or masonry, popped nails or screws, doors and windows that no longer close properly and severe leaks. The office also warned that clearing snow from roofs is dangerous work, and suggests residents hire professionals to do it safely.

Jeremy Hsieh has worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He lived in Juneau from 2008 to 2022 and now lives in Anchorage.

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