Friday, April 6, 2012

Columbus Day Windstorm, October 12th 1962. Humboldt Version

Steven Norman. Arcata forest blowdown (Not 1962)

Robin Shelley said that 70 mph wind, something I wasn't used to in L'ville, can be downright scary

I whole heartedly agree with her. Wind really bothers me. The scariest rescue calls that I go on with the fire department are windstorm calls. I’m reminded of Indiana Jones lowering himself by rope into and underground chamber, he holds out his torch and looks around on the floor and sees hundreds of snakes. He shudders and says, “Snakes! Why does it always have to be snakes!”. That’s the way that I feel about windstorms, “Wind! Why does it always have to be wind.” When the wind blows at night, I lay awake and listen to it hiss through the trees and wait for my pager to alert me to a wind rescue call. Most often our wind rescue calls are in lower Redway, where a virgin old-growth redwood forest exists. People love to live in, and about, the majestic redwood trees… that is until the wind blows and they start falling

Always, not just sometimes, the fire department gets called out when a strong wind blows. I always dread going on calls during a windstorm. I have been through way too many windstorms. I could tell wind stories for a week and not tell the same story twice. Some of the highlights are that trees and power lines are always down and people need to be evacuated. We had to rescue one lady numerous times, in numerous storms. She was in a wheel chair and couldn’t get out when the wind blew. She was always our first call in Redway in a windstorm. She lived the furthest in the back of the forest, so we would start with her and work our way out. Large, well established redwoods seldom blow over. Most often there limbs break off. The tree sacrifices it’s limbs to save the tree. As the limbs break off, the wind is less likely to push the tree over. In a strong wind, redwood limbs fall like rain, and often after a storm the forest floor is littered with limbs and duff. They are very dangerous. A person should never be in a redwood forest in the wind if it is at all possible to leave. One time this poor lady had seven limbs hit her roof. Several of them punctured straight though roof and through the floor in her living room. Needless to say she was terrified. Four of us grabbed her wheel chair, we packed her out and put her in the van and left. I think that was the fastest rescue we ever made. Nothing like limbs poking through the room to hurry you along!

Another woman in lower Redway, and her infant baby, had three large trees go through her house. Someone had told her that the safest place to stand was in a doorway, so, she was still standing in her doorway holding her baby when we found her. By then the storm had long past. We had to cut trees out of the road to get rescue vehicles in. The only part of her house still standing was the doorway that she was standing in and the fireplace across the room from the doorway. The trees that fell through her house had cut clear though her house and driven the foundation down flush with the ground. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t the doorway that saved her, because if a tree had hit where she was standing she surely would have been killed.

This same storm, an older, very overweight man that a neighbor routinely took care of because of his inability to move around very much from being overweight, suddenly became weightless as he ran across the road to his neighbor’s house. The neighbor said that he shined a flashlight across the street toward the overweight man’s house to see how he was. Much to his surprise the man came running across the street…. Strip bare naked, with blubber bouncing in all directions. He said he looked like a great white whale running in slow motion. Shortly after he ran across the street, a top to one of the trees falling through the mother and babies house smashed through the porch where the naked man had just been standing.

In a different storm, a lady lived just north of the brass Rail in Redway just south of her house were two large trees. She was sitting on her couch holding her dog on her lap. In similar circumstance to the mother and child, the ladies couch was across the room from the fireplace. The two trees blew down together. One skimmed off the fireplace to the left and the other to the right, both trees missed the lady and her dog, one to each side of her. We put her in a kitchen chair and packed her over the trees to get her out.

Sadly, not all are as lucky. One night we got called out in a windstorm that a tree had fallen lengthwise of a trailer house. We made a cursory inspection. The only place that was inaccessible was the couch that the tree was squarely on top off. Everything was pancaked between the rubble from the roof the couch and the floor. We determined that if she was on the couch there was no hope. We advised everyone to get to safety because other trees were still falling, we told them that we would return when we cleared all the other scenes, and we left on other calls. The family of the woman refused our advice to leave. They took chainsaws, cut the tree in chunks and removed it. Their worst fears were realized. I felt bad that we had left, we rehashed things at the fire hall when we got done. We were all pretty convinced that we did the right thing by continuing on with our calls. I’m not sure the family felt that way, and I can’t say that I blame them. That is the trouble with rescues… Sometime they make you feel really good, and other times, they make you feel really bad.

The worse windstorm that I remember was on October 12th 1962. I was seventeen at the time and not part of any rescue group. We called the storm “the Columbus Day Storm” because October 12th is Columbus Day. Original, right? I remember whole forests being blown down, all laying in the same direction. The loggers had a real good season the next summer, with all the trees laying in the same direction and they were easy to buck up and get to the mill. Part of the “poor logging practices” that the newcomers like to point to, were not logging practices at all, but a clean-up of blown down timber. Then, as everybody already knows, the 1964 flood followed closely after the blow-down. You knew that didn’t you? It caused quite a mess. But, you knew that too, didn’t you?

There used to be a very thick forest north-east of the Garberville airport, where the roping arena and log ranch house stand now. Most of that forest was flattened. Two men in a jeep pick-up were driving through there when the trees blew down. One tree fell across the passenger side of the Jeep killing one man instantly. The driver lived with non-life-threatening injuries.

All the roads around Garberville were closed from the downed trees. Pete Starr was a mechanic that had a house in Garberville, but his shop was in Briceland. When the wind came up, he decided to head home. He made it as far as the South Fork of Eel River bridge in lower Redway. Just as he approached the bridge, a huge redwood tree went through the bridge. It was an Iron arch type bridge. The tree stopped all traffic in both directions, and the bridge was severely damaged. Pete turned around and tried to head back to Briceland, he no more than got turned around and the wind really started kicking up. Limbs and trees were falling everywhere. He got out of his truck and ran for Whitemore Valley. (now Ruby Valley, the post office changed the name) He said that limbs and trees were hitting all around him. He thought about going back to his truck, but his feet wouldn’t let him they just kept running. He got hit with a few minor limbs and he was able to eventually get back to Briceland. He spent the night there and headed back over the Old Briceland Road to Garberville. Downed trees were everywhere. Foot was the only way that anybody could travel for quite a few days. Of course some bridges were damaged by trees and some were destroyed. It was just going into winter, which didn’t help with the road openings and cleanup work.

The only way that a person could check on their family was to travel on foot. We were very primitive back then, we didn’t even have cell-phones!

The strange thing about the Columbus Day windstorm is that it was far worse to the north of us, up into Oregon and Washington. It was the worse wind in recorded history. Wind meters where ripped apart. Nobody really knows how strong the winds were except through extrapolation. Please follow this link for a Wikipedia version of the Columbus Day Wind storm.


spyrock said...

Game 6 in San Francisco was pushed back four days due to torrential rain on the West Coast. Three of the longest World Series in terms of total days, due to various postponements, involved the Giants: the 1911 and the 1989 were the other two.
the world series between the giants and the yankees is about all i remember from that time. if willie mccovey would have hit that line drive a little bit higher we would have won. so there seems to be some connection between the giants winning the world series and major disasters. the earthquake in 89 and the cyclone in 62.
my cousin sharon and her husband richard got married in 62 and honeymooned at my mom's old log cabin in spyrock. on june 23, they are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary at longbarn, ca in the sierras just past sonora.

spyrock said...

sorry, disasters occur when the giants lose the world series. when they recently won, nothing happened. so keep that in mind for the future.

Ross Sherburn said...

I remember this storm. My Dad told me to not hike up the hill behind our house,like I did quite often.
Next day after the storm I hiked up behind our house.Well,the area looked very similar to the picture you posted here,hundreds of small to medium sized Fir trees blown down. "SCARY"