Keep trees in hurricane trim

Damage to homes and power lines can be prevented or lessened by preventive pruning.

Published April 17, 2005

Christmas isn't the only time to trim trees.

"In terms of preventing damage to your home and improving our ability to restore power, it's critical that everybody properly maintain and trim their trees prior to hurricane season," said Michelle Baker, emergency management director of Pasco County.

Uprooted trees, downed limbs and the cleanup of debris was a major and costly problem after last summer's four hurricanes.

Trying to mitigate property damage should be a priority for homeowners, said Citrus County Emergency Management Director Jim Soukup.

"Look at your trees," he said. "If there's any rotten limbs, get rid of them immediately."

Thomas Leto, the emergency management director in Hernando County, recently got rid of a dead tree on his property.

He was worried that any "wind event" - hurricane, tornado, thunderstorm - would bring the tree crashing down on his home.

"Get the trees trimmed," Leto said. "Do it before the start of the season, and do it each year. I would make the investment, because it's money well-spent."

That strategy may be fine in rural Citrus and Hernando counties, but in cities, such as Tampa and St. Petersburg, homeowners may have to get permits to trim or cut down trees, said Larry Gispert, director of Hillsborough County Emergency Management.

"Just don't go out and rent a chain saw and start hacking away at your 100-year-old tree," he said.

Call city building officials, he suggested. And if the tree is near a power line, call the people at your power company. Sometimes, they will trim those trees for you, or suggest a licensed tree-trimming contractor whom you can call. Most power companies, such as Progress Energy, have a three-year tree-trimming schedule, where arborists and licensed trimmers shave foliage and limbs away from power lines.

Still, homeowners can help themselves.

"Our recommendation is that people keep the overhang of trees away from the home," said Gary Vickers, director of Pinellas County Emergency Management. "Obviously if they break and fall, they're going to come down over the roof."

Damaged limbs often fall during the season's first mild storm. But it's still a good idea to check the health of your trees and secure anything else in your yard before hurricane season.

"Anything that can be picked up by the wind can be a missile," Hillsborough County's Gispert said.

After a hurricane, "the removal of debris can be a mammoth problem," he said. "Trees, telephone poles, power poles, travel trailers, boats. ... Anything that can be picked up and blown away just adds to the problem."