Dry rot caused by Serpula lacrymans.
Dry rot caused by Serpula lacrymans.

BERKELEY, CA - Dry wood rot is now a primary suspect in the fatal fall that killed six students when a Berkeley, CA dormitory balcony gave way on June 16.

Constructed just eight years ago, the building balconies are supported by seven wood joists, which snapped suddenly at apartment 407 under the weight of 13 people.

Engineers studying the failure speculate that the joists may have been compromised as water leaked around windows, doors, or from the roofline, according to reports in The Los Angeles Times. The 177-unit apartment complex was developed by Transaction Cos., Berkeley, CA, with contractor Segue Construction Inc. and TCA Architects. 

Dry rot is wood decay caused by certain species of fungi that digest cellulose and hemicellulose cells of the wood, leaving just the soft lignin, robbing the lumber of its strength and stiffness. It was previously used to describe any decay of cured wood in ships and buildings by a fungus which resulted in a darkly colored deteriorated and cracked condition. 

The life-cycle of dry rot can be broken down into four main stages, according to Wikipedia's description. Dry rot begins as a microscopic spore which, in high enough concentrations, can resemble a fine orange dust. Despite being called "dry," dry rot requires moisture to thrive. If the spores are subjected to sufficient moisture they will begin to grow fine white strands, or hyphae. As these hyphae germinate they form a large mass, called mycelium. The final stage is a fruiting body which pumps new spores out into the surrounding air.

 

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