Sometimes They Fall Where They Shouldn’t

Yesterday I was doing some more work in the woods on the dead spruce trees. I had two large ones fairly near the big power lines that form the eastern boundary of our property. They were joined to a single stump. I cut the smaller of the two first and it went right where it should have. I branched and bucked it, and had enough gas in the chainsaw to work on the other one.

As I looked this one over, I decided that it could fall in an arc of about 300 degrees without hurting anything. If it fell onto the power lines, it would be bad. These are not just residential lines; they are transmission lines that carry tens of thousands of volts. They are high up and have a corridor of cleared trees all around them for good reason. This fall our fire department got a call for a tree that blew onto this same set of lines. The tree exploded in flames.

Sizing this tree up, I located the most likely direction it would fall, and spent probably a half hour cutting a small dead tree out of the way, and piling up the branches that were in the way. In the chainsaw training I’ve had, I learned you need to make sure you have a couple of clear paths of escape when the tree starts to go over.

tree.jpgI notched the tree so it would fall south, and then did my back cut. Things were going fine. I watched the gap open up which told me the tree was falling, so I quickly got out of the way. After the fall was over, I turned around and beheld a nightmare. The tree fell exactly east, directly toward the power lines. Fortunately, there were some other trees between it and the lines, which stopped the tree from falling all the way onto the lines. I’m sure I stood there for some time with my mouth open. Then I gathered up my gear and moved quickly away from this place. I felt the tree could fall any minute, and if it touched the wire, I didn’t want to be anywhere near.

I moved as quickly as I could with the saw on my shoulder and all my protective gear on. I got to the garage and put everything down, then walked inside and called UPPCO. It being Sunday afternoon, I think I got someone that was pretty new at the job. She was very calm, which helped calm me down a bit. After I explained everything to her (it took a while) she prepared to end the conversation by saying, “someone will be out there within 3 days.”

I told her I thought she didn’t understand the gravity (ha!) of the the situation. Were the tree to fall and tough the line, the tree would either burst into flames, or tear the line down, or both. Since these lines essentially power the whole Keweenaw, I thought maybe waiting up to three days was waiting a little too long. “Let me talk to my supervisor,” she said.

tree2.jpgWhen she came back she asked for my phone number. She said I could expect a call soon from the emergency crew. “That’s more like it,” I thought to myself. Sure enough, a guy called me back in about 10 minutes for instructions on how to get out here. I told him I could sent him a picture of the tree so he could determine for himself how bad it was. He said that would be great so I did. I never heard from them again, but I can tell you that trucks and lights went by until almost 11:00 pm last night. When I looked things over this morning, I saw evidence of a tracked vehicle driving up to the tree, and the dangerous sections of the tree cut up and on the ground.

I’m glad to report this story had a happy ending. It was exceedingly bad luck that the tree fell 90 degrees from where I told it to, but very good luck that nothing else bad happened.

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