DANVILLE (CBS SF) – A massive heritage oak tree crashed down on a home and destroyed three vehicles in Danville’s exclusive Diablo neighborhood Tuesday.
Homeowner Steve Headen said he and his wife were in their kitchen when they heard a loud rumbling noise.
“I thought at first that it was thunder,” Headen said as he stood in front of his damaged home. “It sounded like thunder and then at that point you could see stuff coming through the ceiling.”
The massive tree slammed into the home, heavily damaged the garage and crushed three vehicles.
“The house is a mess. The garage is a mess,” he said. “The firemen said the water is leaking into the house. They have to call the building department.”
He said the family’s vehicles were all destroyed.
“Two cars are crushed in the garage,” he said. “And my truck. But we are okay and that is all that matters.”
Meanwhile in San Francisco, two massive trees toppled in a city housing project. One of the trees slammed into an apartment building, forcing several families from their homes.
In Napa, a falling tree triggered a landslide that forced the closure of State Route 128 just east of the Canyon Creek Resort.
Drenching winter rains were combining with the punishing effects of six years of drought to cause trees to topple across California, in some cases with deadly results. At least two people have been killed in the past month.
Experts say that in some cases, the dry spell weakened or killed the roots or trunks, and the soggy soil and wind caused the trees to fall over.
A woman was struck and killed by a tree over the weekend while walking on a San Ramon golf course.
Days of back-to-back storms have brought the heaviest rain in a decade to parts of Northern California and Nevada, flooding homes, roads and vineyards. Some areas got more than a foot in the 72-hour period that ended early Monday, and then got rained on again on Tuesday.
In a state park near the town of Arnold, a beloved giant sequoia that became a drive-through tourist attraction decades ago when a tunnel was cut through its trunk crashed to the ground during the weekend storm.
The ancient tree was sickly and barely alive before the storm.
Authorities say they have no immediate estimate of how many trees have toppled.
The epic drought gripping California has killed more than 102 million trees in the Sierra Nevada, in many cases by weakening them so much that they became vulnerable to attack by bark beetles.
A huge effort is underway in the Sierra Nevada to cut down dead trees near roads and homes before they fall. There are also fears that the deadwood could fuel catastrophic wildfires.
William Libby, a retired professor of forestry and genetics at the University of California, Berkeley, said that after a heavy rain, trees weakened by drought have been known to die suddenly instead of rebounding. He likened it to giving a starving person too much food too fast.
“When you’re really weakened, trying to come back in a hurry, it is probably not a good idea,” he said.
Lisa Smith, an arborist and president of the Western Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, downplayed the role of drought in knocking down trees.
She said that even healthy trees can give way if the ground is soft and their leaves catch the wind like a sail.
“Many trees that are drought-stressed and have limited foliage, ironically, may be sparse in their canopy and thus less prone to wind sail,” she said.
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