Danger signs can point to falling trees

WASHINGTON — The holiday weekend got off to a tragic start when a tree in Woodbine, Maryland, fell on a 75-year-old man while he was grilling. He was killed; three of his grandchildren were injured.

Howard County Fire and Rescue is investigating, but it appears that the tree was rotten and eventually gave way.

WTOP’s Garden Editor Mike McGrath calls falling trees and tree limbs “one of the biggest dangers of being outdoors.” In a conversation with WTOP’s Hillary Howard and John Aaron, he says that they happen a lot more often than most people realize.

“I would guess they’re maybe as risky as a lightning strike,” McGrath says.

There’s a reason for that. McGrath says that many of the trees planted in the area in recent years are “cheap trees” such as tulip poplars, silver maples and Bradford pears.

“These are notorious for getting brittle at the top and falling apart,” McGrath says.

So how do you make sure your trees are in good shape?

McGrath says that this is the perfect time of year to check on any trees in your yard, while the leaves are still on. There are a few warning signs to look for.

“The giveaway is dead branches above,” McGrath says. “A tree that is healthy, that is fully leafed-out, that doesn’t have any bare branches, is not going to fall on anyone” or drop any branches.

Safely disposing of a diseased or dead tree may not be easy or cheap, but McGrath says homeowners just have to “man up.”

“It’s the responsibility of having a home,” he says. “It’s something you have to pay attention to.”

He says that insurance companies won’t help you with prevention.

“They’ll cover you if someone’s injured, or if it strikes the house, but up until then, it’s your responsibility.”

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