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After the storm

In the evening of Monday, August 16th, a thunderstorm rolled over the skies of edmonton, with several lightning bolts touching down within city limits. On Tuesday morning, Frank Chipps, ISA Certified Arborist and owner of Chipps Tree Care, Inc. was pruning the trees and shrubs in a clients’ backyard and listening to the client tell the story of a lightning strike the night before that seemed too close for comfort. Having several mature spruce trees on the property, Frank decided to perform a visual inspection of these 60′ specimens. It was immediately apparent that one of the trees had been struck in the previous night’s storm. On the ground lay a 24″ long piece of bark and wood that had been blown from the trunk of the tree. Further inspection of the upper canopy of the tree revealed quite a large section that had its bark blown off, and extensive vertical and horizontal cracks in the trunk of the spruce. Considering the close proximity of people, structures, and other targets, it was decided, upon the arborists recommendation, that the tree was too high risk to leave standing.

On Wednesday, August 18th, I was given the task of removing this damaged tree.

As the effect of lightning strikes on living trees has not been extensively studied, and several tree worker deaths have been attributed to climbing into the canopy of lightning strike trees, care and planning of this removal was extremely important. With no room to fell the tree from the ground, and high voltage wires too close to permit crane access, a low impact removal performed by climbing the tree was the only option. Luckily an adjacent spruce tree was available to rappel into the canopy of the struck tree, and upon installation of my rope, I began my ascent. The largest section of visible damage was located approximately 25′ up in the north side of the trunk, this was where the large piece of bark and wood had been blown from the tree. An in-canopy inspection revealed more damage than could be seen from the ground. Spiraling up the trunk was a crack that appeared to continue for another 30′ up the trunk. I was extremely attentive not to subject the tree to large forces, and continued to climb upward, removing limbs as I went. At 40′, I decided that the top of the tree could be dropped to the ground. With the use of a humboldt notch with a 70 degree opening, and proper bore-cutting to ensure an appropriate hinge thickness, the top of the tree landed perfectly on the ground, avoiding a small shed and a wooden fence. The rest of the trunk was removed in small pieces and dropped to the ground beside the base of the tree. To my amazement, several pieces of the trunk were completely split in half. Further “dissection” of the tree revealed vertical splitting in over 60% of the canopy, and horizontal cracks where the some of the lightning exited the tree. The wood itself was light, having been dried out on the inside from such a large surge of electricity.

From start to finish, with attention to detail, the removal was completed without damage to the targets around the tree.

It is extremely important to have knowledgeable, safe, and qualified professionals work with such high risk trees, as the impacts of lightning strikes on living trees can not be predicted.

Peter LaRue
Field Operations Manager
Chipps Tree Care, Inc.

Peter LaRue has been with Chipps Tree Care, Inc. for 5 years, and has extensive knowledge in low-impact technical tree removal, healthy pruning techniques, and risk reduction pruning, as well as all types of woody landscape plant care and maintenance.