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Tips to Make Sure Trees Don’t Become a Hazard

In the past two weeks, two large trees have come crashing down, raising concerns about safety.

Monday night a tree toppled on a Carpinteria house, damaging part of the roof. Last week, a 45-foot ficus tree fell on the grounds of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

Some people might want to put the blame on the drought and then a downpour of rain, but Santa Barbara City Arborist Tim Downey said don’t point the finger just yet.

“It’s not the cause of the fall, it’s a contributing factor,” he said.

Downey has been the city arborist for seven years. He said in order to determine if the tree is a hazard, professionals need to look for three things.

“The tree or branch has to be big enough that if it fell, it could hurt somebody or cause damage,” he said.

The second part is it needs a target. In a city, that means a person, car or house. If a tree falls in a forest, it’s not a hazard because there’s nothing to hit.

Third, there has to be a visible defect.

The drought can have an impact when it comes to the health of trees, and maybe even weaken them, but Downey said it does not make trees come crashing down.

“If you had something like that, there was something going on with the tree beforehand and the storm event just brought it to light,” he said.

A tip for people with a tree in their yard: get it inspected at least once a year.

To the untrained eye, a tree might look like it’s dying. An example is the dawn redwood in Alameda Park. It’s bare but Downey said it’s one of the few conifer trees that actually loses its leaves in the fall.

“It’s important to know what’s normal for the tree and what’s not normal for the tree,” he said.

Downey stresses owners should treat trees as an investment in order to keep them around for decades.

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