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Huge oak crashes down in back yard during storm

The casualty of Friday's wind and rain can't be saved. Such trees are usually old or disease-stricken, a city forester says.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- Watching TV in the living room of her home at 235 21st Ave. SE, Janice Parker heard a "swoosh" in her back yard Friday evening amid the fierce rain and wind.

Not daring to go out in the heavy weather, she looked out the window but could see little in the darkness. Her dogs didn't help much. They were terrified by the thunder and lightning.

It wasn't until Parker's daughter, Stephanie Damelio, came home later in the evening that they found out that the huge oak tree in their back yard had fallen.

The bark had damaged only the fence, and no one was injured. In the next days, Damelio called the city of St. Petersburg, only to learn that it had nothing to do with trees on private property. The only option was to call a tree service.

"I wanted to have the tree back up," Damelio said. "I'm very upset that the tree fell, and I was wondering if there is any way it could be saved."

The company she called, Ernie's Tree Service, had bad news: The tree was too big to be put up again. It could only be cut into pieces and be removed, which the company would do for $900.

On Tuesday, Damelio decided to call Pinellas Tree Service, and she was told the tree would be removed today. Damelio feels sorry for the birds and squirrels that lived in the tree, but she knows her own habitat was threatened too.

Standing in the 10-foot gap between the thick branches of the fallen tree and her house, Damelio is grateful that the wind did not hurl the tree onto the home. "We have another oak tree on the other side of the house," she said. "We have to have it checked out before it falls down on our house."

Parker's oak is not the lone tree to fall lately. Ernie Coark of Ernie's Tree Service said he had been called about seven or eight fallen trees in St. Petersburg in the last week.

His guess is that trees are getting heavier as their leaves get wet, while the ground is getting softer from a lot of rain. But he suspected that the oak at Parker's house may have had root diseases too.

"Trees in the city are not like trees in the forest; they need maintenance," Coark said.

He advises homeowners to use fertilizers, to remove unnecessary weight from trees, and to support some of the limbs when necessary. "People just have to pay more attention to their trees," he said.

To city forester Guntis Barenis, the weather is not a major player, even though it may be a contributor. Aging, disease and termites are felling trees, he said.

"If a tree is healthy, it's likely to survive. The trees that are falling now are the old and the disease-stricken."

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