By Tom Worthley, UConn Extension
On May 15, 2018, late in the afternoon, a striking example of one of those “severe weather events” we see quite often these days passed through my neighborhood in Higganum. Severe winds, downpours, lightning and thunder all were part of a wicked and deadly storm that ripped limbs from and uprooted trees, downed powerlines and damaged buildings and vehicles in other parts of the state. Images on TV news and social media of damage and cleanup efforts have been striking.
For my part, because of the sudden and severe nature of the winds, and the near-continuous display of lightning, I was as nervous I ever remember being about a storm event and the potential for damage to my humble little house from trees and limbs. Sure enough, one large limb, from the top of a large red oak, did get ripped off and came down about 20 feet from where I park my car. There is, of course, a mess of smaller twigs and branches as well. No real property damage, thank goodness, but it was close. The storm was over a quick as it began, and now, just like many folks around the state, I’m faced with a clean-up task. It’s not a real problem for me; that broken limb is at the edge of the woods and will make a nice neat little pile of firewood.
For many people, however, the task of cleaning up storm-damaged trees is not so straightforward and simple. Many damaged trees are huge and are left in precarious, unstable positions. Storm-damaged trees are fraught with abundant problems, dangers, and risks. Cutting, cleaning up and salvaging downed, partially down or damaged trees is one of the most dangerous and risky activities an individual can undertake.
In viewing the news reports, photos and social media posts I have been shocked and horrified by the personal risks that people are taking to cut up downed trees in cleanup efforts. Pictures of men operating chain saws in shorts and t-shirts, climbing downed tree limbs (and standing on them!) to cut them, working with no personal protective equipment, etc. – it can all be quite distressing for a person familiar with the potential danger. No professional arborist or logger I know does chain saw work without personal protective equipment – and these are the experts!
It cannot be emphasized enough that without personal skill and a thorough knowledge of equipment capabilities, safety procedures and methods for dealing with physically stressed trees, an individual should never undertake this type of work on their own. The very characteristics that make the wood from trees a great structural material can turn leaning, hanging or down trees into dangerous “booby-traps” that spring, snap, and move in mysterious ways when people try to cut them. They can cause serious and life threatening injuries. Just because your neighbor or relative owns a chain saw, it doesn’t make them qualified to tackle a large tree that is uprooted or broken. Contacting a Licensed Arborist, or Certified Forest Practitioner with the right equipment, training, and insurance, is the best alternative for addressing the cleanup and salvage of storm damaged trees, and avoiding potential injury, death, liability and financial loss.
That said, there are a few things a homeowner can do about trees that are damaged and/or causing other damage around a home site:
- First, from a safe distance note the location of any and all downed utility lines. Always assume that downed wires are charged and do not approach them. Notify the utility company of the situation and do nothing further until they have cleared the area.
- Don’t forget to LOOK UP! While you may be fascinated with examining a downed limb, there may be another one hanging up above by a splinter, ready to drop at any time.
- Once you are confident that no electrocution or other physical danger exists, you can visually survey the scene and perhaps document it with written descriptions and photographs. This will be particularly helpful if a property insurance claim is to be filed. Proving auto or structure damage after a downed tree has been removed is easier if a photo record has been made.
- Take steps to flag off the area or otherwise warn people that potential danger exists.
- Remember that even if a downed tree or limb appears stable, it is subject to many unnatural stresses and tensions. If you are not familiar with these conditions, do not attempt to cut the tree or limb yourself. Cutting even small branches can cause pieces to release tension by springing back, or cause weight and balance to shift unexpectedly with the potential for serious injury. Call a professional for assistance.
- Under no circumstances, even in the least potentially dangerous situation, ever operate, or allow anyone on your property to operate a chainsaw without thorough knowledge of safe procedures and proper safety equipment, including, at the minimum, hardhat, leg chaps, eye and hearing protection, steel-toe boots and gloves.
An assessment of the damage to individual trees, or more widespread damage in a forest setting is best undertaken by an individual with professional expertise. Homeowners should contact an Arborist to examine trees in yards or near to structures, roads or power lines. A Certified Forester is qualified to evaluate damage in the forest to trees and stands and advise landowners about the suitability of salvage or cleanup operations. The CT-DEEP Forestry Division can provide information about contacting a Certified Forester or Licensed Arborist. Check the DEEP Website, http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2697&q=322792&deepNav_GID=1631%20
or call 860-424-3630. Listings of Licensed Arborists can also be found at the CT Tree Protective Association web site, www.CTPA.org.
While a nice tidy pile of firewood from a tree that was damaged in a storm might be the silver lining, it is not worth the risk of injury to yourself or someone else when tackling a very dangerous task without the proper knowledge, equipment or preparation.