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'Sad year for trees' likely won't end soon after latest snowstorm in Colorado Springs

April 5, 2017 Updated: April 6, 2017 at 9:00 am
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Colorado Springs City Forestry workers Johnny Hearlson, top, and Kent Jenkins work Wednesday, April 5, 2017, to remove a broken tree limb dangling over North Corona Street. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Nearly three months after hurricane-force winds downed trees throughout Colorado Springs, saplings to century-old elms took another blow.

This week's snowstorm, which dumped several inches of heavy wet snow on the city Monday night into Tuesday, damaged well over 1,000 trees in the area, according to local officials. Branches broke and limbs snapped under the weight just as some trees were beginning to bud.

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"It's been a sad year for trees, really," said Marty Karner, owner of the Springs-based Eco Tree Service.

Karner, who has been called to more than two dozen properties since Monday, believes many of the trees that suffered in the snowstorm were weakened by the winds on Jan. 9, when gusts exceeded 100 mph in parts of El Paso County.

On Tuesday, the city Forestry Division received about 600 calls about downed branches, the Streets Operations and Management Division fielded another roughly 300 and the Fire Department got about 400 more, said City Forester Jay Hein.

One woman told firefighters that a tree branch, 15 to 20 feet long, crashed through her roof and landed in her living room as she was watching television, said Capt. Steve Wilch, a Fire Department spokesman.

Colorado Springs Utilities had nearly 1,200 calls on Tuesday related to the storm, most of which were about branches that had fallen onto electrical lines, said spokeswoman Natalie Eckhart. In addition to the four crews that Utilities contracts year-round, another nine crews were called in from a Denver company to help. By Tuesday afternoon, the teams had taken care of roughly 700 of the calls.

County crews cleared fallen branches in the Security-Widefield and Chipita Park areas, according to Matt Steiner, a county spokesman. In Colorado Springs, Damage was concentrated on the central and western parts of the city, officials said.

"In the Old North End and the west side of town, it's literally block by block that we have trees down and branches down," said Hein.

Another five crews from city departments were responding to calls on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Their time was spent removing severed branches from the roadway and sawing off dangling limbs. Many of the trees will have to be revisited to ensure that their wounds have been property pruned, Hein said.

Deciduous trees that have begun to bud, such as Siberian elm and green ash, were especially hard-hit because their leaves and flowers hold more snow than bare branches.

Cleanup will likely take weeks, Hein said, so residents should be careful.

"It's still a good time to be vigilant about what's over your head," he said.

Hein estimated the tree damage from Tuesday's storm will cost the city thousands of dollars.

Downed branches can also be expensive for property owners. The cost of clearing debris and removing trees or branches can vary, from $250 to upwards of $2,500, said Tom Flynn, owner of locally-based Front Range Arborists.

The company received 60 calls for service on Tuesday - an unusually high number, he said.

The most recent snowstorm, combined with a snowstorm in March and the windy day in early January, have spurred the busiest start to the season the tree removal service has had in the 24 years since he founded it.

"This is our third pummeling of the season, which is unheard of," said the arborist. "We just don't see back-to-back-to-back Mother Nature occurrences like this."

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