Three women were injured on Monday when a 50ft tree fell onto a hiking trail in Santa Clara County, California. Two of the women sustained moderate injuries, while the third (who was trapped underneath the tree when responders arrived) had only minor abrasions. All three were taken to hospital for treatment.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle (opens in new tab), the tree fell on the Mine Hill Trail (opens in new tab), which follows the route of an only mining road. The incident was reported by a bystander, and emergency responders used cellphone triangulation to find the three hikers.
“Trees have fallen before,” said Frank Weiland, spokesperson for the Almaden Quicksilver County Park, where the trail runs, “but we’ve never received an injury report.” The tree has now been cleared, and the trail reopened.
Biologists are investigating why the tree fell on Monday, but oaks can be dangerous in late summer. Just a few weeks ago, the National Park Service warned visitors not to linger under oaks due to a phenomenon known as summer branch drop (also known as sudden limb drop). This causes branches to break away from trees without warning.
Unlike wind damage, which tends to tear branches away at the trunk, summer branch drop tends to cause limbs to break partway along their length, and is more likely to happen to large, heavy limbs.
The exact cause of the phenomenon isn't known, but experts from the University of California (opens in new tab) have suggested that it might be down to drought stress, which reduces flow of sap within the branch. Internal temperature rises, plant cell walls break down, and ultimately the limb fails.
If you hear a cracking or creaking noise under a tree, move away as soon as possible. If you're in a National Park and see a branch drop, you should report it to a nearby ranger or via the NPS website.
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Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).
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