Wind-related tree fall is only storm casualty among emergency calls

by: COURTESY PHOTO: CLAIRE BUHLER - A towering Oregon white oak tree fell at the corner of 15th Avenue and Elm Street in Forest Grove Saturday evening amid the first wind and rain story of autumn.Police and firefighters converged on the corner of 15th Avenue and Elm Street Saturday evening after a 150-year-old Oregon white oak toppled over in the wind and rain.

The towering tree, one of several dozen century-old white oaks planted around town in the mid-1800s, was located at 2434 15th Ave.

“None of its roots were showing,” Matt Johnston, logistics officer for Forest Grove Fire & Rescue, said of the 60- to 70-foot tree, which crushed a detached garage and barely missed an historic home. “The whole base just fell over.”

Forest Grove Light & Power crews were still cleaning up branches and other debris Monday morning after the storm system had mostly dissipated. Surprisingly, Johnston said, the tree’s demise was the only weather-related call firefighters responded to over the weekend.

“When we have a couple storms in a row like that, we typically get a couple of calls at least,” he said.

Emergency personnel tended to a downed power line the oak took with it when it crashed to the ground around 6:15 p.m. The trunk and branches of the tree — which was listed on the 2013 Forest Grove Register of Significant Trees — fell close to the historic Watt House.

Built in 1905, the Watt House is on the local historic homes register for houses inside the Painters Woods District.

“There was no root system at all — that tree had quit growing,” said Melody Haveluck, a Friends of Historic Forest Grove board member who lives next door to the damaged property. She said neighbors “just started showing up” to clear branches from the roadway, and that on Sunday, a group from Sonrise Church in Forest Grove cut up the massive trunk.

“This is a great town,” she said.

Emergency crews fought a different kind of battle when they responded to a fire alarm at Burlington Hall at Pacific University Sunday evening and found water gushing from a third floor dorm room.

“There was no fire — a student had used the sprinkler head as a clothes hanger,” said Johnston. Firefighters from Forest Grove and Cornelius turned off the sprinkler system and used tools and vacuums to control the flow of water. There was no damage estimate as of Monday morning.

Thursday, Sept. 26, was also a busy day for public safety workers, starting when a 9-year-old student at Joseph Gale Elementary School, 3130 18th Ave., started a fire in a boys restroom. School staff put out the blaze, which damaged a wall, said Capt. Mike Herb, Forest Grove police spokesman. The student later tried to avoid trouble by burying the lighter outside in the bark dust and accusing his brother of lighting the fire, Herb said, but eventually admitted his role and was released to his parents.

That afternoon, Cornelius and Forest Grove firefighters freed a farmworker who got caught in a beet harvester on Southwest Stringtown Road after he tried to dislodge soil and beets from the clogged machine. They used hydraulic rescue tools to free the man’s legs. He was taken to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center with non-life threatening injuries.

At the time of that incident, FGF&R crews were already on the scene of a serious crash by the Shell gas station on the Wilson River Highway west of Forest Grove. One of the two injured people in that crash was rushed to a trauma center in Portland.

Later that evening, around 9:30 p.m., Forest Grove police found a three-year-old child and a dog “wandering alone” on Hawthorne Street. An officer carried the child door-to-door, looking for her parents, until other patrol units joined in the search and the child’s father finally called police from several blocks away to report his child missing, Herb said. Apparently, the child escaped by using a bar stool to reach the door lock, he said. Police are sending a report about the incident to the Washington County Department of Human Services.

On Friday, Sept. 27, two Cornelius schools — Echo Shaw Elementary of the Forest Grove School District and the private Emmaus Christian School — were put on lockout, while police searched for a burglar who threatened a homeowner with a gun.

Washington County Sheriff’s deputies and Forest Grove police helped Cornelius police look for a white male in his 30s who reportedly was inside the home of a resident in the 500 block of South Jasper Circle when the homeowner arrived home from work around noon.

According to Sgt. Bob Ray, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, the homeowner said the suspect was carrying away a rifle stolen out of the house and that the thief pointed a handgun at him before fleeing through the back door and over a fence.

The suspect then ran into the back door of another house, located behind the victim’s house on South Ivy Court.

A search team, assisted by a sheriff’s office dog and a remotely operated robot with mounted cameras, searched the second house but did not locate the suspect, who reportedly has a scruffy beard and is of average height.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact the Cornelius Police Department at 503-359-1881 or non-emergency dispatch at 503-629-0111.

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