Irma Recovery Day #3: Trees and Power Lines…

As I shared yesterday:

[…] With most hurricane power outages you can find something, usually a tree, that has actually severed the top power line on a neighborhood grid. If the tree is massive, with or without taking down the pole, the tree has to be removed first. If the power company has to remove a tree before they can restore power to an ordinary residential neighborhood, they drop the priority to “some later time”, and move on to quicker repairs… Ergo most of those without power, end Day #3 (September 13), will not see power until their rotation on the tree removal list comes up; sometime around the end of the month (two weeks away), or later.

A case in point.  Check this one out:

You can click on that image to make it massive.

[I uploaded the image in full massive size in case someone has any idea how to tackle it without a crane.]

This Australian Pine has a primary trunk circumference around 9-10 feet’ +/-

About 50 homes impacted when this pine came down and is party cradled by the lower utility cable which didn’t break (cable, internet, tv line), and party held up by a tree on the lot behind it.  There is also still a partial attachment at the trunk split (which makes it even sketchy to evaluate close quarters).  It’s a thick tree. Precariously balanced.

Power company timeline on something this scale is two weeks (+/-).   The teeter-totter aspect to how this is balanced (party on tree split, cradled by cable, and party on other tree) makes it really precarious.   The darned thing is “floating”.  Take too much weight off the branches (normal approach) and the trunk weight could then drop it like a catapult.

The professional recommendation was to rent a heavy crane and sling before even touching it.  Any weight guesstimates would be just that… the tree is saturated w/ water.


Next up is a more successful endeavor where a line connecting more than 150 homes is now cleared. Check out the root system to understand the scale of this effort.  Four chainsaws X six straight hours each, just to clear enough room for power crew.   Two new poles needed (hopefully Friday).

This tree was so heavy it actually crushed the power pole on the right side of the picture and the pole on the left side is cracked and also needs to be replaced.

Taking down this single tree by hand and clearing the power lines will hopefully shorten power outage by two weeks for 150 homes.

Last pic: the homeowner.  One of the most respectful, decent, responsible and hardworking mid-twenty-year-olds you will ever meet.  Yesterday, while scouting for best sites for our efforts (then door knocking), I introduced him to his neighbor.  Today they worked side-by-side as if best friends for life.  Really solid people.   Whatever needed to be done, tear down fence etc., to get-r-done.  It’s neighborhood sweat equity, but it will pay massive dividends for years after Irma.

There are tremendous challenges in front of a great deal of really good decent people. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the scope of the challenge and allow the sheer enormity of it to drown you. Don’t let it.  Every day, every hour, every minute… the goal is the same; just one step. Don’t look at what cannot be solved, look at what can.

♦ Fuel is becoming more available.  Approximately 1 in ten stations now has gas; that’s a major improvement.   Because we can find fuel easier, we are able to help keep people’s generators filled, and also trade them full cans for empties. [Initially, I get funny looks on those offers].  Last two nights I’ve ended the evening near the interstate filling empty cans.

It seems like there’s a strategy to keep the gas stations on the primary exits into the impact zone filled as a top priority. Whoever came up with that plan was super common-sense smart.  An explanation might have been on the news, not sure – haven’t watched TV in a week.

However, just as common sense – it’s smart logic. As people come back from their evacuation places and take their exit into SWFL, THOSE interstate exit stations have fuel.  They have lines, but they have fuel.

This allows the returning inbound residents to fill up their gas tank before going to the house.   That approach takes the pressure off the gas stations inside the impact zone.

The returning masses were thick coming South on I-75 again today.  However, new this time is many of them carrying back fuel in jerry cans.  Very common occurrence today, to see this.

Again, people are responding with common sense solutions – many are bringing their recovery supplies with them, rather than counting on supplies being available.

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205 Responses to Irma Recovery Day #3: Trees and Power Lines…

  1. Rob1 says:

    Ideas for that tree, from a non-expert:

    You could try cutting a wedge in the tree, just above its main center support (which I guess is the power line). When you’ve cut out enough material, the tree may begin to crack/bend and the power lines may start to rise up as weight transfers away from the center support and toward the end supports. It also may result in a safer geometry, as the two halves of the tree become more vertical.

    The lighter the tree, the safer. If you feel you can’t begin by cutting branches, maybe you can “fillet” the trunk. That is surely a lot of work, but it may allow you to lighten the tree significantly.

    Consider some kind of safety harness and rope system that will allow bystanders to pull the chainsaw operator out of the way of danger, if he is unable to do so himself.

    Leaning a ladder up against the tree that you are cutting is a risky maneuver. Try to support the ladder by other means, even if you have to run ropes from the top of the ladder to a tree that is behind the chainsaw operator. Let the ladder lean on the downed tree for stability, but if that tree falls, the ropes should prevent the ladder from also falling. Although it may be an exciting ride for the chainsaw operator.

    Good luck!

    Liked by 4 people

    • dginga says:

      I have read many times that amateurs should stay away from downed trees that involve power lines. I realize that it’s very frustrating to be without power, but it isn’t worth killing yourself.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ted Koehl says:

      Just a thought. How about using some heavy tree harvesting machines? I have seen videos of these big tractors cut down and strip the branches and bark off of huge trees in the forest for the timber companies. Maybe a few of them working an area can supplant a couple hundred smaller chainsaws?

      Liked by 3 people

      • vexedmi says:

        The harvesting machine might work if you had the room to get to the site. The machines are very large. Looking at the pictures, the machine wouldn’t be able to get around the house to do the job.

        Liked by 2 people

    • tgmccoy says:

      I’m from Oregon -and grew up around the logging business .Pop was a logger spent
      two summers with him logging- he was what was known as a “Faller” someone who would fall trees-fall one, move on to the next fall that one , and so fourth. OK,
      DO NOT mess with any idea of removing a tree like that. It.Will.Kill.You.
      Stay out and wait for the pros. Please wait..for the Pros…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rob1 says:

    Hopefully you have one of these available to you when you’re working around power lines.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. MfM says:

    This is the attitude that Sundance is talking about. It takes one person to start an effort to clean something up and people will join. Not everyone will stop and help, but some will.

    This is an interview with the nun in full old fashioned habit caught wielding a chainsaw on Sunday.

    She saw a need, had the tools and even though it was Sunday went out and got to work.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Brant says:

    Yes, a little bit at a time. Was helping clear some at our church……..and the pecan grove. Folks with 4 wheelers and chain saws were pulling the big limbs. The front and side yards were full of hand size pieces I could manage in my truck. The trees are on 50 foot centers. About 10 of those 50 foot squares. I decided the best way was to concentrate only on a small square. I got a lot up that way and concentrated on the mower blade killers. After about 8 truck loads and really 80% up and all the big stuff (2 finger diameter), I told the preacher the first 1-2 mowings might require sacrificial mower blades. He understood 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  5. maxmbj says:

    Great inside look at what’s happening. Thanks, Sundance. Keep those chainsaws whirring!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. itswoot says:

    “[I uploaded the image in full massive size in case someone has any idea how to tackle it without a crane.]”

    ” The darned thing is “floating”. Take too much weight off the branches (normal approach) and the trunk weight could then drop it like a catapult.”

    I have a jack-of-all-trades background with good problem solving skills. Something of a Macgyver type, as some friends have said. My dad was as well.

    Anchor the butt end of the split trunk to the stump and smaller trees with strong rope, chain (preferred) or cable. Use smaller rope if need be and do multiple windings. This is to minimize any shifting.

    The incline of the trunk looks slight enough to make it walkable. Wear boots or shoes with a heavy lug to minimize slipping. If need be, use long screws or small diameter lag bolts to place short boards (12 to 16 inches) on the trunk to help give stable footing. A cordless drill would ideal for this. The goal in doing this is to work your way up the inclined trunk to cut off the top and side branches as far up the trunk as is possible. Use a rope to lower and raise a power saw, working with someone on the ground as the cutter works up the trunk. The main idea of this is to reduce the top heavy weight of the branches to lessen the chances of the tree rolling or catapulting on you as the trunk is cut apart.

    A small chain saw would be ideal for cutting the branches, but if that is deemed too risky while balancing on the trunk, a bow saw would work if one is available. Last resort would be a battery operated reciprocating saw (if available) with an aggressive blade. A very slow process and quick to drain the batteries.

    Next stage would be to put together an “X” brace made out of tree poles of around 6″ in diameter, and with enough length to reach up to support the upper part of the tree where it would be best to cut it off. The “X” of the brace would be directly under the tree trunk, and further by rope/sturdy extension chords tied at the “X” and anchored at the bases nearby trees, fences or sturdy stakes.

    Find an extension ladder to lean against, and tie to, the lower trunk side of the cut. As an added precaution maybe the person doing the cutting should tie themselves with a short rope to the ladder/trunk.

    Attach ropes/extension cords to the end of the section being cut off. Have people pulling on them on the side opposite the ladder to help it fall away from the sawyer. If need be, a hook (shaped like a fish hook) can be built using small 2X4’s with a rope/cord attached and thrown up onto the tree to snag it solidly.

    I suppose I should be giving out a disclaimer along with this… 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • itswoot says:

      A couple of afterthoughts:

      A properly adjusted chainsaw can be safely started on the ground and will stay running without the chain moving. A helper can tie a rope at the handle and be hauled up by the person up on the leaning tree doing the cutting.

      After everything is cut above the power line, place an “X” brace about halfway between the power line and the base of the tree. It will act as a fulcrum. Figure in the weight of the tree and tension bearing down on the power line when placing the “X” brace. You’ll want the butt end of the tree to be favored for that end to drop to the ground when whatever is holding it up (rope/chain) is removed and any remaining attachment with the stump is cut.

      When in doubt about a chainsaw kicking back from cutting anything with pressure on it, maybe using a slower cutting bow/hand saw would be the way to go.

      Liked by 3 people

    • itswoot says:

      One added thought:

      Place the “X” brace each time so that it is perpendicular with the leaning tree, not straight up and down. It is far less likely to tip to the point of collapsing that way when weight is shifted.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. James W Crawford says:

    I can not overemphasize the danger of removing trees from powerlines without confirmation that the line is no longer energized. Not even a power company crew will attempt to remove a tree without cutting power first. The Fluke Voltage detector rated for 1,000 Volts is insuffecient to warn you because it will be fried by the much higher voltage of distribution lines.

    The power company and officials need to map out areas where the power lines are not energized and safe for average people to work on clearing.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Nailbanger says:

    Looks like the butt end isnt really holding much up,
    Id just start cutting, only way to do it to assure the cable doesnt come down is to support the tree right at the cable, but how high is it? Looks like 12-14′? Ish, you could cross up 4x or 2x lumber to support it, shoring jacks? Then just cut, butt end first, separate the butt from the stump, cut manageable chunks, or rig it so someone can pull them away from you as your cutting so it doesnt knock your ladder away, easiest and safest would be get a loader or backhoe or construction fork lift with a platform in there and stand in the bucket etc but im guessing thats not an option. Be careful!


  9. Watcher says:

    The trunk being over the utility line is keeping it from the ground.
    Whoever these lines belong to could disconnect from the poles right and left of the trunk and lower the line to ground with proper tools. Before they should inspect the line, if damaged cutting the line maybe necessary anyway.
    The tree it is leaning on may have to be sacrificed.
    No alley, can a basket truck access the area through yard?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. chowgirl says:

    That huge tree is a job for professionals IMHO. However, there exists a Genie vehicle that is very slow moving that has a bucket. Provides access to otherwise impossible or dangerous situations at out of reach heights. Goes as high as 3 stories.
    It’s called a Genie S60 Boom Lift

    Liked by 4 people

  11. mefotobug says:

    Sundance, passed this on to a logging crew I know well here in Arkansas. Will let you know if they provide any good, implementable advice that could be done by a crew wielding chainsaws… Stay safe. We continue to pray for you and those working for the restoration of SWFL.

    Liked by 4 people

    • mefotobug says:

      Unfortunately, all of us here have come up dry. No pun intended. Makes me wish we could pack up our tools and come down to assist in person. The usual solutions were discussed, but nothing really feasible for making and using came forward. 😦 Best stuff: need some sort of sling to slide under both ends of the tree (teepee design = 2per end with multiple rope/straps between each set. As you tip each end up it should elevate the tree just a scotch and take the pressure off the line…); After, make sure the tree is stabilized so it doesn’t shift…then begin trimming away. Unfortunately, without being on site, it is so difficult to advise. Sorry we couldn’t do better. Will keep asking away though.


  12. scott467 says:

    “[I uploaded the image in full massive size in case someone has any idea how to tackle it without a crane.]

    This Australian Pine has a primary trunk circumference around 9-10 feet’ +/-

    About 50 homes impacted when this pine came down and is party cradled by the lower utility cable which didn’t break (cable, internet, tv line), and party held up by a tree on the lot behind it. There is also still a partial attachment at the trunk split (which makes it even sketchy to evaluate close quarters). It’s a thick tree. Precariously balanced.”


    If you are serious about doing something with this tree, it seems like the safest thing would be to remove whatever is holding the big tree up.

    In other words, if it is laying on top of or being supported by a second tree on the lot behind it, that other tree probably can’t be saved anyway.

    Take that second tree down, and whatever is being supported by it (i.e., the Australian Pine) comes down too.

    Just gotta be careful it doesn’t come down on you. 😉

    And the utility cable will probably snap (whipping around unpredictably, i.e., dangerously), if/when it becomes the only thing still holding that Australian Pine up. So I would probably cut that utility line first, if there is a way to do it safely. It could be cut from a safe distance, and who knows, cutting that line and removing whatever support it is providing might be enough to redistribute the weight of the fallen tree, which might roll right off of the second tree in the lot behind and fall harmlessly to the ground.

    Just a thought.

    Be careful!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. jeans2nd says:

    Prob a stupid suggestion, but, assuming the power cable is verified dead, would it be possible to cut the power cable & remove the cable from under the tree, then splice it together? If the power poles are still intact, all the better. All depends on where the tree would ultimately land, of course.

    In the meantime, we sent a couple three dozen more reinforcements, left this a.m. w/a bunch of folks from surrounding power companies. Go tell ’em you need them further south.

    Liked by 6 people

  14. Well, we just got our power back on here in Atlanta, NE – inside the perimeter. Repair effected by Appalachian Power and LIght from Charleston, WV. Asked the crew chief where GA Power was (I mean, come on! This is Dekalb County) and he said they’re spread pretty thin all over the SE. Must be really nice to be a monopoly! BTW, our neighborhood damage on through street that carry the main elect, etc. was minimal compared to Florida so I’m not complaining, but it took from Monday till now to do this. An effort that took 45 minutes. Grrrrr.

    Liked by 8 people

  15. My husband is a recently retired lineman of 36 yrs. We joke that’s he’s a chainsaw, hammer and wrench man.

    He said #1. Make CERTAIN the line is dead. Then make certain no one is going to light the line up that you don’t know about.

    #2. Clear the limbs around the trunk near the line because you are going to saw through the tree trunk there.

    #3. Saw the trunk in 2 places on each side of the wire. First saw the trunk through on the base side about 2 feet from line. The tree will reposition. Now, make sure everyone within 100 ft are cleared away. Make sure the saw guy can run to escape the coming trunk section that’s going to shoot like a catapult or role. Now saw PARTIALLY through the tree trunk on the other side of the line about 2 ft from the line. This is on the tree top side. Get ready to move fast. Now start to saw from underneath the three trunk where you just sawed it PARTIALLY. At anytime during this sawing of the underneath to the top, meeting the topside saw down, this chunk of the tree trunk will catapult off the line. BE CAREFUL!!!!!!!!! The rest of the top side of the tree will fall to the ground and the line will snap up.

    He was very serious about not trying to do it yourself Sundance. He’s seem men fried, beheaded and everything in between. He recommends strongly to wait for help. Also, I am translating this trying to help you out. I hope It’s understandable. Think it through, make a dummy run with a branch on a hose. Please be careful and safe. Please wait for the professional tree guys. This is super dangerous!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sunshine says:

      We’re getting advice along the same lines (no pun intended). However, my expert friend said to start with cutting the crown to remove loads of excess weight within a few feet from the cable line, the goal being the preservation of the cable line and removal of excess weight.

      This can’t be done with a ladder. A professional tree trimmer has the equipment, i.e. an elevated basket. Or maybe a firetruck with their articulated ladders.

      Apparently, it’s not all that difficult.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. allen blumanthal says:

    You need two snatch blocks. 200 feet rope. extendaboom or manlift. 4-wheel drive. chainsaw.
    Use the good tree with rope and a block high in tree than another block at base of good tree than run a rope to down tree at powerline and through both blocks and accach to 4 wheel drive.
    have truck take up slack and watch down tree to see it rise at trunk. use extendaboom to assist if needed to cut trunk and contine cutting peieses off trunk untill you get to powerline and than swing powerline over down tree and back up truck slowly.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Minnie says:

    God bless you Sundance and all with you in your endeavor to relieve the suffering of our fellow Americans.


    Liked by 2 people

  18. Brant says:

    Trying to paste a picture. All good in Fitzgerald ga at out place. Power out for 4 days, but generator doing well. We do turn it off at night even if it is outside. Actually right now using it to wash clothes. A basic generator nothing fancy. Our house in oxford ga a near miss. A 60-70 foot oak tree. About 10-12 feet diameter. In front of a small 600 sf rental house. The mom of two little ones (who were inside) stepped out the front door. She said the steps began to move. The tree was no more than 10 feet in front of her fell parallel to their house missed their little garage. The upper branches brushed the back of my house and punched a few holes I the detached garage roof. Not a fancy garage, just rafters, decking, and paper/shingles. I think one outer window of double pane window on house was broken. If we had decided to evac here from South Georgia, our car would have been about 2 feet tall as the tree fell across the driveway. So, no little ones hurt, house not hurt, cars not hurt, garage that can be fixed only thing with a boo boo.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Sunshine says:

    I just spoke with a friend who does this type of work. He had a similar case today and he took it down.
    As I initially thought, he said to start by cutting the crown a few feet from the wired cable. It will flip downward away from the cable, removing a lot of weight.
    Then, you cut an incision in the trunk above and below, a straight cut with two incisions. That part will break on its own, freeing the cable.
    Of course, you need something to carry you up, some type of generator-powered basket.
    He says it’s easy to take down, one person only, without damaging the cable.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Howie says:

    Electric just came up. Citrus County. Got luck with tree falls. One right between the cabin and bunkhouse. Any word on how Treeps r doing? i haz been out of touch.

    Liked by 10 people

  21. tgmccoy says:

    In the Logging Business that is a situation called a “Widow Maker ” a hung tree is death on a stick. Do not mess with it. Please. Pros only….

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Howie says:

    Rope off the area so nobody gets near. Wait for a pro. That is what I am doing with my dangler.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. formerdem says:

    St. Joseph is very clever, you should see the staircase in Santa Fe. I am praying for his advice on this.


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