A combination of drought followed by heavy rain is being blamed for toppling a tree on a south Forsyth home Monday.
It’s a situation, officials said, that could happen more often as winter approaches.
Janet Loney is just grateful no one got hurt. She was getting ready for work Monday morning when something crashed above her.
About 7 a.m. an oak tree from her backyard fell across the right side of her Southers Circle home.
“I was standing in the bathroom and all of a sudden I heard a loud sound,” Loney said. “Tree branches came through the roof ... I was standing right where the tree hit the worst.”
Loney and her two dogs were able to get out of the family’s home of 28 years without injury. Her husband, Steve Ray, had already left for work.
Forsyth County firefighters removed parts of the tree and placed a tarp over Loney’s home to help prevent further damage.
Fire Capt. Jason Shivers said the entire right side of the home had heavy damage from the tree’s impact. In such cases firefighters first determine whether anyone is stuck inside the structure or injured.
“If there’s a rescue to be performed you have to enter into a very technical form of response,” Shivers said. “Fortunately in this case, there was no need for that.
It appears the rain loosened the roots and caused the tree to fall, Shivers said.
Forsyth County Arborist Greg Wallace didn’t know about the specific incident, but said dry soil and roots contract from each other during a prolonged drought, leaving small voids in the ground.
“That lessens the contact between the roots and the soil and when you have a heavy rainfall the soil is going to loosen up because it’s so moist and saturated,” he said.
“Compound that with winds that you get a lot of times with storms and you can see how that loosens the trees’ support systems, the roots, and makes them much more susceptible to wind throw.”
In addition, Wallace said, the drought stresses trees and makes them more susceptible to disease and insects.
“After we’ve had these prolonged droughts the smaller roots begin to die, kind of like a wound if you will,” he said. “And that allows root disease to get into the trees and causes the roots to further die and rot and lose strength.”
Wallace said if the top foliage, such as small branches, of a tree appears to be dying, that may be a sign of drought damage. He said construction also can damage roots.
Wintry weather can make the situation worse, Wallace said, with the weight of ice on an unhealthy tree adding more stress to damaged roots.
“You may be adding hundreds of pounds of ice to a large tree and that can certainly cause them to topple over,” he said.
Wallace said those with concerns should contact a certified arborist to inspect trees on their property. The county does not provide such services.
In Monday’s incident, Shivers said firefighters cautiously removed small sections of the tree in order to cover the roof with a tarp.
“Certainly with rain anticipated throughout the day today and next few days it was a priority to protect these homeowners’ property inside the home,” Shivers said.
“Removing of the limbs of the tree is just a necessity to be able to put the tarp on the home in a proper fashion that’s going to stay and not be blown off.”
Firefighters also turned off the propane going into the home and called Sawnee EMC to disconnect the power.
Workers with the company also helped firefighters remove limbs from power lines on the property.
Members of the local chapter of the Red Cross came to the couple’s home Monday morning to offer help, but the couple said they plan to stay with family in the area.
Ray was grateful no one was hurt.
“I feel extremely fortunate,” Ray said. “This could’ve been devastating.”
E-mail Julie Arrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.