Imagine you are driving home on a Monday after work. You are so glad to have the first day of the week behind you and relax by listening to your favorite DJ regale you with funny stories between upbeat tunes. You are thinking about what to have for dinner. You’re hoping to go to bed early and get to the gym before work knowing the probability is already 50-50. You’re already mulling weekend plans when all of a sudden you’re forced to slam on the breaks and narrowly avoided hitting the downed tree now blocking the roadway.
You get out of the car and ensure no damage to your vehicle. Thankfully there isn’t any, but what do you do now? You yell across the tree to the blocked driver heading in the opposite direction. “I guess it’s our lucky day,” you say sarcastically. “Did you call the police or someone?” you ask.
In a different community, a downed tree might not occur too often, but in the Portland region, especially during the winter, the odds are greater than you would expect. In fact, during the last storm on January 12, there were more than 250 calls made to the Portland emergency tree line, according to Oregonlive.com. So, even if you’re not a Portland arborist, in Rip City, it is important to know what to do when a tree emergency arises.
So what constitutes a tree emergency? According to the Urban Forestry, a tree emergency is when a tree has physically fallen over (as described in the previous scenario); a large branch is blocking a street, sidewalk, or public park entrance; a tree is splitting; a large branch is hanging precariously; or any other hazardous or potentially hazardous situation that is occurring on public property or City right-of-way.
If you come upon a tree emergency, do not call the police. Unless a person is trapped under a tree, someone is physically injured at the scene of the tree hazard, you deem the area a high fire hazard or the tree has fallen near a utility pole, avoid dialing 9-1-1. This will be your first instinct, and I’m sure the dispatcher could help connect you with the right city entity, but if you can help it, do not tie up the 9-1-1 phone lines for a non-life-threatening emergency.
Instead of calling the police, if you are in Portland, contact Urban Forestry at (503) 823-TREE (8733). Someone mans the phone 24/7 so you will always be able to speak with a person directly. However, keep in mind that during a storm or immediately after the lines may be busier than usual. Once connected, a dispatcher will send out someone to respond to the situation within 24 hours.
Similarly, if you are in Washington County, you can call (503) 846-ROAD (7623) during business hours or the after hours, non-emergency line at (503) 629-0111. If you are in Clackamas County and a tree is in the road, you can report any problems at (503) 557-6391.
Unfortunately, if the tree emergency is occurring on private property, whether it is your own land or at a private business, the emergency tree line is not the line to call. Instead, personally contact a Portland arborist to help you care for the situation or alert the property owner about the hazard.
While it is more likely to come across a downed tree in the roadway, in Portland, we are also at risk of trees falling on our homes. Unfortunately, it is more common than you think. While you can never properly prepare, or avoid such devastation, this is what you should do if it happens to you.
If a tree falls on your home the absolute first step is to ensure everyone is evacuated; this includes pets. Even if the damage appears to be minute, it is better to be safe than sorry as you want to ensure no structural damage has occurred before you reenter.
Next, if there are downed power lines, call the police and the power company. Then, take pictures of the damage. It is easy for forget this step in the literal and emotional chaos that will ensue, but it will help you when submitting insurance claims, which brings us to your next step. Call you insurance company. Most often, if a tree falls during a storm and damages your property it will be covered under your homeowners’ policy. However, as outlined by Allstate Insurance Company, the reason why the tree fell is extremely important and will directly impact whether you are covered. If damage is caused by a tree that fell due to negligence or maintenance issues it will likely not be covered. Similarly, “if the tree was rotting and ready to fall down before the storm, homeowners’ insurance likely would not cover the damage the tree caused to your home.”
Once the immediate problems are cared for, call a Portland arborist. An arborist is the most qualified person to remove any downed trees from your property and will often submit any required permits on your behalf. You will also likely need to connect with a home contractor to fix the damage that incurred. Often times, your insurance carrier can recommend a home contractor if you do not yet have one in mind.
Ultimately, while it is impossible to prepare for downed trees, there are steps to take now to ensure you are cared for at a later date: