Investigation reveals cause of deck collapse at Columbia home

Howard Fire & Rescue units have left the area, but the incident remains under investigation.

Howard County Department of Fire & Rescue Services and the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits are investigating the deck collapse of a Columbia townhouse around 11: 15 p.m. Tuesday that left five people injured.

According to the fire department, firefighters and paramedics were called to the 6300 block of Wind Rider Way to the Brookside townhomes, where five people were taken to local hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries after the deck pulled away from the home and collapsed. Paramedics also evaluated a sixth person who refused further treatment.

Around noon Wednesday, Director of Licenses and Permits Bob Francis said he went to the home to inspect the damage.

“Where [the deck] was lagged into the house, it pulled out and it fell over," Francis said, pointing to the joints that had once connected the house to the ledger board at the top of two wooden beams. “Not the ledger board, not the deck, not the beams of the deck, but the actual rim joints of the house itself appear to have rotted out and caused that to pull away. It’s like if you tried to screw a board into a sponge. It’s just not going to hold.”

Unlike the collapsed deck, Francis said, the next-door neighbor's deck had recently added two additional beams for extra support, allowing it to be free-standing.

"So, the gravity load off this house is not an issue anymore," he said. "This sort of thing has only been required by the code in the last five to 10 years, so a lot of decks out there may not have this [additional support]."

Across the street, two neighbors, Jessica Fan and Emily Shah, said they didn't hear the deck collapse but saw lights flashing outside their windows late Tuesday evening.

"We looked out and there were fire trucks and ambulances all over the place," Fan said. "There was a fire truck parked in [Shah’s] driveway. It’s really strange and shocking because we’ve never really seen that many ambulances and police in our neighborhood. All of our neighbors were driving by and everyone’s talking about it because it hasn’t really happened here.”

After finding out that a deck collapsed, Shah said she remembered talking with another neighbor last summer who was having issues with his deck.

"He said that he had somebody come out and look at his [deck] and they said it wasn’t structurally safe," Shah said. “I don’t know if the weight is supposed to be more on the posts, but the guy said the weight was on his house, so he had his reworked last summer. My husband and I were like, ‘We should do that, but whatever, we don’t spend too much time on our deck.’"

The incident has left both Fan and Shah worried about their decks, especially with their younger children running around.

"After this, I think we’re going to definitely take it seriously," Shah said.

Francis said the home was built in 1998, but he is unsure who built the deck or if it was built around the same time. As the investigation continues, he said, the homeowner is responsible for the repairs.

"Because there is a rental-housing license, we will be able to cite them for the property maintenance issue to get it cleaned up," Francis said. "If it were a private homeowner, we wouldn’t have any authority to force them to do anything. Obviously, it would be in their best interest to get things cleaned and tightened up.”

This story has been updated.

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