The countless limbs along Ormond Lakes Boulevard form a trail, their fragments ending at a large oak tree leaning precariously in Larry Adams’ backyard.
Another casualty of Hurricane Irma.
As Adams tells it, the fall was a lucky break; a few more degrees to the north, and it would’ve flattened the neighbor’s house. Now it rests treacherously in Adams’ backyard.
“I didn’t know a thing until after the hurricane hit,” Adams said. “I happened to look up and all I saw was roots.”
The oak’s limbs snake and tangle with another tree, anchoring it at a slant and exposing its thick roots. It’s too dangerous to leave it there, and Adams has called SB Tree Service to remove the hazard.
A ground crew of six surveys the “leaner.” The tree’s a whopper, some three feet in circumference, 50 feet tall and 4 tons, SB’s estimator, Tyler De Stephano, said.
“It’s a dangerous job,” Adams said eyeing the tree. “I hope no one gets hurt.”
He’s right. Besides having to worry about being crushed from a falling limb or electrocuted by a power line, crews also have to deal with a menagerie of critters: Snakes, raccoons, birds, squirrels, spiders, wasps and fire ants.
“I’ve seen all of it,” De Stephano said.
Sometimes tree removers work from 100 feet in the air – with chainsaws. But for this job, because of how the tree fell, they were on the ground.
It doesn’t make things much safer.
Using a mix of experience and educated guesswork, foreman Troy Derr plots to answer the question: “Will it fall straight, or will it roll?”
“The hardest part is guessing your cuts,” Derr said. “If you guess the wrong way, the tree will roll.”
And if it rolls?
“You get out of the way,” Derr said.
SB general manager Joe Singer advises his team to stand clear as Derr uses a chainsaw to make a bore cut into the tree in hopes it will fall to the ground rather than rest suspended in the air. Climber John Nedrow assists, attacking the tree from the other side.
“This is kind of an art right here,” Singer said. “When you have thousands of pounds lying on a tree, you have to be careful about how you’re cutting it.”
Wood bits spew and fly, and as the saw cuts deeper, the tree falls, rolling to the right. You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief as the tense moment ends.
Immediately, the rest of the crew springs into action. But the danger’s not over yet. They still have to watch for widow-makers, or limbs that can fall from above.
Chainsaws howl and scream as Nedrow dismembers the higher limbs with a pole saw while Derr dispatches the fallen trunk. The work is backbreaking, and soon the men are enshrouded a funky mist of sweat and sawdust and cigarette smoke.
They make short work the once mighty oak, dividing it into ever-smaller segments until it can be dragged, hoisted or thrown. Singer uses a tractor to remove the large chunks of oak too heavy for the men to lift.
In a little over an hour, all but the stump is gone, which is how Adams wanted it. The tree the men took from Adams’ yard Tuesday afternoon was the fifteenth tree they’ve removed in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The crew has been working from 6 a.m. until they “can’t cut anymore.”
“It’s been really crazy,” Singer said of the boom. “I’ve got hundreds of phone calls coming in. We can’t get to everyone, but we try to.”
The Port Orange company doesn’t chase storms, and in their absence there’s a mix steady work of pruning, trimming, stump grinding and root raking. But after a hurricane, things get hectic.
Business ramped up before Irma struck as residents took precautionary measures ahead of the storm, Singer said.
Sometimes it’s not enough.
“You can’t always keep a tree from falling down,” Singer said.
While De Stephano said the damage from Hurricane Matthew in terms of trees was worse, SB Tree Service might not be done with all its Irma-related work until sometime next year. There’s many more scattered limbs, leading to many more fallen trees.
Though the men face long, dangerous months toiling in the Florida heat, as Singer put it, any day no one gets hurt is a good day.