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Death and Destruction

We had an exciting time last weekend. Not “exciting” as in “Whee!” but “exciting” as in adrenaline. A heavy rain managed to bring down a seriously large tree down the block from us!

Fallen elm on Hartford

Fallen elm on Hartford. Bet you’ve never seen a city worker just standing there, staring into a hole before.

The block of Hartford Street in the Castro that’s between 19th and 20th, has had these two massive Chinese elms (Ulmus parvifolia) that were large enough to brush the houses on both sides of the street. I don’t know how old they are, but one neighbor said they were already past their third-floor windows when she moved in back in 1984. Recently, the city started tagging sidewalks around the neighborhood that needed repair, and the sidewalk around this tree was among the tagged sections.

A couple of years ago, the “mate” to this tree, a couple of houses uphill to the south, had its roots breaking up the sidewalk. The homeowners there repaired the sidewalks, but opened up a larger area around the tree so that they could leave the roots intact as much as possible. The owner of this other tree intended to do the same. He already had some contractors on site doing some repair work, and had them break up the sidewalk to repair it. The idea was to re-grade the sidewalk over the roots. While the homeowner was at work, though, the contractors went and bought a new chainsaw to make their sidewalk work easier. They hacked all the roots out around the tree.

The next day, we had some heavy rains (very welcome in our drought situation!) that saturated the ground around the opened sidewalk. All it took was a bit of wind in the storm to bring the tree down. It took out the power lines with it, and ripped the gas lines up from under the street in the process! Tenants from the block went running off in all directions as the gas hissed and sputtered from the rent pipe. You could actually see it spewing out under high pressure, and the whole area smelled strongly of gas for several blocks around.

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The block was cordoned off while PG&E came in to shut off the power and the gas. Residents were offered a Muni bus for shelter around the corner since it was still raining so hard. Once the gas was off, the electricity could be restored, the pipe was repaired, the tree was dismantled and hauled away, and the street once again opened to the residents. The torn pipe actually yanked the gas main out of alignment, and the street had to be dug up to replace a section of the main. It’s amazing how fast all this work can happen in an emergency situation.

The next morning, I was walking our critters and came across a news crew lingering around the hole that was the once-great tree. The mom of the tree-owning household and I both got interviewed by the crew. At least they took my snippet and let me sound smart. They sure tried to elicit some dramatic response, I’ve gotta say! My ten seconds of fame. 🙂

Fortunately, nobody was hurt, there was no explosion, and not even a car was hit by the tree! The only damage was to sections of sidewalk and this parking sign. Everybody will be keeping an eye on the other tree, though, for sure.

The only residual damage from the fall.

The only residual damage from the fall.

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