Strong winds snap spruce tree

A large Sitka spruce fell in Juneau's Evergreen Cemetery during a storm that blew through Southeast Alaska Tuesday. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

A large Sitka spruce fell in Juneau’s Evergreen Cemetery during a storm that blew through Southeast Alaska Tuesday. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

We’ve all heard the riddle, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

How about if a tree falls in a cemetery?

That’s what happened Tuesday in downtown Juneau during the rain and wind storm that blew through Southeast Alaska… except someone was around to see it.

The large Sitka spruce toppled over in Evergreen Cemetery within striking distance of the offices of MRV Architects. Project Manager Zane Jones watched it fall with some colleagues.

“We had some wind gusts that pulled our front door open, so we started looking out the windows,” said Jones. “Sure enough, as soon as we did, a gust came around the building and we watched it bend clear down and snap.”

Fortunately, the tree fell away from the building. A large stump with a crack in it is all that’s left in the ground. The rest of the trunk came down on top of some graves, surrounded by a stand of other trees.

“It was just one of those kinda planet Earth moments, where we were just in awe and quite amazed that it took down such a big tree,” Jones said, adding “and also so fortunate that it fell in neutral location.”

Juneau’s Parks and Recreation Department manages Evergreen Cemetery. Parks and Landscape Superintendent George Schaaf says the plan is to cut up the fallen tree and clear it from the cemetery, hopefully by the end of the week.

“Get it bucked up into rounds, and get those moved out of the cemetery, and at that point people would be welcome to come by and take what they would like,” Schaaf said. “But the big concern we have is that we don’t want people driving into the cemetery, because the tree came down over some very old graves that really wouldn’t be able to support vehicles.”

Schaaf says he won’t know the approximate age of the tree until they can cut it up. He estimates it was close to 100 feet tall and says the trunk is about 3.5 to 4 feet in diameter.

“Certainly not a very young tree,” he said. “It’s pretty old for downtown Juneau anyway.”

The tree fell around 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon. National Weather Service observation data from the nearby Juneau Federal Building shows wind gusts between 25 and 50 miles per hour Tuesday morning. But the largest gust recorded at the Federal Building that day was 73 miles per hour at about 2:30 p.m.

Full disclosure: George Schaaf is a member of KTOO’s Board of Directors.

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