December 25, 2012 | Back to: News

Giant cedar falls, narrowly misses two houses


Haley Johnson heard such a clatter, felt her house shake and then nearly shatter, but she was sure it wasn’t Old Saint Nic.

“It felt like an earthquake,” The nine-year-old Johnson said. “It was loud. It sounded like the ground cracked.”

Johnson was home with her sister, step-brother and her mother’s boyfriend Sunday morning as around four inches of rain dropped, loosening trees’ roots’ grip on saturated soil. When wind gusts of more than 50 miles per hour came, trees toppled.

A more than 100-year-old and more than 100-foot-tall cedar narrowly missed Johnson’s bedroom when it crashed to the ground shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday on the 13000 block of Winding Way, outside Nevada City.

While the towering cedar missed Johnson’s house, it flattened her family’s carport, as well as the neighbors’ shed, missing their kitchen by a mere foot.

“We heard a boom and the whole house shook. I thought it was lighting and thunder,” said Angel Bojorquez. “I tried to open the door, but the tree had blocked the door while wiping out our back patio area. A foot to the left and my kitchen would have been completely gone.”

Johnson and her siblings rushed to their door to see what happened, but the tree had knocked power lines still buzzing with current a mere yard from that entrance, said mother Sarah Johnson, who was at the grocery store when the tree plunged.

Another set of lines fell on the opposite side of the house, blocking the other door. These lines caught fire, which briefly spread to the smashed carport, said Haley Johnson.

This fire was stamped out by the heavy rains by the time the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) arrived on scene shortly after the incident was phoned in.

Responding personnel safety escorted the children and adults to and from the home amid fallen trees and power lines.

No one was hurt and no major structural damage was reported, beyond the side-structure laundry room of the Johnson’s home that was toppled by the uprooted base of the cedar, Sarah Johnson said.

“It’s like God had his hand on that tree and placed it exactly where it was supposed to go,” Johnson said. “Nobody should have walked away from that. It should have landed on our neighbors’ house. It should have landed on our home.”

Other tragedies were averted. A dog belonging to the Johnsons is usually kept outside but was inside during the tree fall. Had it been outside, the mother said her children would have likely ran through the downed cables to ensure the dog’s safety.

Additionally, the mother’s car is usually parked in the carport, but because she was not home at that time, their car remains unscathed.

Perhaps most miraculous is that Sarah Johnson herself was not home. At eight months pregnant, she said if she’d been there, the shock of the tree fall might have induced labor.

“With all the horrible things that are happening, I am just glad I get to hug my kids,” she said.

The storm that rolled through Nevada County Monday dropped between three and five inches of precipitation on western Nevada County, toppling trees and flooding culverts and roadways.

“We had our fair share of trees down due to saturated soil and high winds,” said CalFire’s Brian York.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 100 people in Grass Valley were still without power from an outage that began shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday, according to Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman J.D. Guidi.

“This is the only outage in the whole Sierra Division,” Guidi said.

Those residents were expected to have power back by 7:30 p.m. Monday, Guidi said.

The weekend gave PG&E plenty of work to attend to, Guidi said, with crews from Stockton and Fresno mobilized to areas north of Chico and the Sierra Nevada, which were most impacted by the Northern California storm. The utility also contracted private workers to handle repairs.

While Monday provided a sunny reprieve to the weekend storm, National Weather Service Forecaster Karl Swanberg predicted showers would return in the afternoon Christmas Day Tuesday and drop another inch to an inch and a half of rain in Grass Valley.

“It might start out dry, but rain is likely in the afternoon,” Swanberg said.

Winds are not expected to return as fiercely with gusts topping out at around 15 mph, Swanberg said. Temperatures are expected to peak in the 40s with lows in the 30s.

Those showers are expected to last into Wednesday with rain shifting to snow between 3,000 and 4,000 feet, Swanberg said.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

“It’s like God had his hand on that tree and placed it exactly where it was supposed to go. Nobody should have walked away from that.” — Sarah Johnson


The Union Updated Feb 22, 2013 10:02AM Published Dec 27, 2012 09:55AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.