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Hurricane Lee is expected to make landfall in the province this weekend. While, at least at print time, The Third isn’t the direct target, we can expect a lot of rain and wind. And its arrival almost a year to the day after Fiona hit has some feeling a bit extra-anxious about what Mother Nature has in store.

Meteorologists agree that we don’t have to grip for the likes of another Fiona, but we do have to be prepared for what could be a sustained post-tropical weather event.

And some regions of The Third will be more vulnerable to Lee’s rain and wind because of previous Fiona damage.

Regular readers might recall that in a previous issue (number 3) The Third spoke with CBRM Manager of Emergency Management, Bruce MacDonald, who told us that some areas of the Third are particularly vulnerable to wildfires. Well, according to a local arborist, those same areas are at greatest risk for both property damage and personal harm.

Joe Barrie is the owner of Air Ex Tree Care in North Sydney. He is a certified arborist with years of experience working across Canada removing trees and tree debris from and around power lines.

He says that the branches that broke off trees but got caught up in the tree or blew into nearby trees are a danger. So are tree branches that were damaged or cracked by previous weather. But, he says, these branches are always a hazard to us and our property, weather events simply accelerate or guarantee property damage or personal injury.

“The trees are dangerous, right from the second they get damaged,” said Barrie. “Cars, houses, sheds, fences, street signs; you name it. I've seen tree branches take them out. And nine times out of 10 they were previously broken or cracked branches.”

Widow makers

Barrie says that many times he finds himself cleaning up months or years after the initial damage caused by storms and hurricanes.

“I've stood many times inside people's kitchens and living rooms with my big chainsaw cutting up huge logs because a tree came through the roof,” he said. “Broken limbs hanging, cracked limbs, split trunks, cracked roots are all part of storm damage.”

Barrie says that these damaged trees are known by forestry workers as widow makers. “It basically means they can come down at any time; they don't need a storm,” said Barrie. “Sometimes it only takes the slightest bump against the tree or maybe you walk on the roots leading to the tree enough to shake the top free and it comes down on top of you.”

Barrie says that there are plenty of widow makers in the Third and they will ultimately cause damage.

So will loose branches hung up in trees and power lines, he said. “It adds to the damage a lot faster if there's loose stuff to blow around. Besides the fact of wind, we have to consider load-bearing branches, such as in the wintertime when we get snow and ice on them. [A hurricane] will cause the same effect, as the wind will set broken or cracked limbs free causing all kinds of injuries and damage.”

He noted that while we feel safe driving down the roads of the Third with our sunroofs closed, widow makers coming through car roofs is a major source of vehicular damage. “It only takes a piece of wood or a large limb to come crashing through that sunroof to really ruin your day. That's just one example of one of the more common things I've seen happen,” Barrie said. “If you can avoid driving underneath limbs that might be hanging over the road. Then do so. You never know when they're going to let go.”

Trees and power lines

He says that there also exists a danger from trees leaning on power lines post-Fiona and from those tall enough to meet a power line if they were to come down. According to Barrie, there are enough of these trees to keep Nova Scotia Power’s crews and its contractors busy trimming and inspecting.

“Whether that means topping them or taking the whole tree down. Broken branches, stubs, and weak spots in trees are also watched in larger trees as well,” he said. “Trees around power lines cost a lot of money per year in damages, especially when you get into the country areas with all those trees. The chances of one of them not causing any damage is uncommon, especially if the storm is very large.”

It’s some of the ‘country areas’ of the Third that took the hardest hit from Fiona. According to MacDonald, Louisbourg; Port Morien; Donkin; Birch Grove; Albert Bridge; and Gabarus sustained the most damage and are the areas with the most debris left behind from Fiona.

Keeping you and your property tree safe

In some cases, damaged trees and hung-up branches are not on our property yet can jeopardize our safety or our possessions. In these instances, Barrie suggests reaching out proactively to the owners to prevent disasters.

“My suggestion would be to contact them and try to work something out. It’s likely they didn't even realize there may be dead or broken limbs because when they are on their side, they don't see those,” he said. “Preventative maintenance goes a long way. So does a good neighbour.”

Barrie says that when the tree is located on public land, governments usually have no problem addressing it because they don't want to see anybody get hurt.

‘Preventative maintenance is number one’

Barrie has a number of suggestions for keeping yourself and your property safe before a hurricane. “If you think the branches on a large tree are long and they look like they're weighed down on a normal day then you may want to look into putting shutters on that side of the house for the windows or setting up a sheet of plywood with a frame you can attach over the windows.”

For trees that are larger than 15 feet tall, he said you can take four ropes, put them 3/4 of the way up the tree, and peg the tree down using the ropes. Ensure to put the ropes far enough away from the tree so that you don’t drive the pegs into the ground damaging the roots.

Wrapping small trees also helps. This will also stop branches from breaking off and flying around.

Healthy trees are strong trees

Safe trees are healthy and have a strong structure, according to Barrie. “That includes from the tip of the tree to the tip of the roots and how deep the roots are as well as the type of soil,” he said.

Here are his tips for growing healthy trees:

· Properly trimming trees prevents a lot of damage and encourages good health and adds to good structure.

· Trees that have extremely long limbs should be cut back to lesson the overall weight on the branch. This really helps when the branches are loaded with snow or ice or whipped around by high winds.

· You can easily take most trees and shorten them back with no harm to the tree; it promotes growth.

· Thinning and removing deadwood also helps.

· Remove interfering branches that rub on other branches and cause back damage and should be removed.

Barrie says that investing in your trees increases the property value. “So in the long run calling a professional in is well worth it, no one gets hurt and if you sell the property you will get your money back in the end anyways.”

“No one’s life is worth a few branches”

Safety is important in Barrie’s profession, and he takes it seriously. “Nobody needs to get hurt over a tree branch that's hanging in the yard or even the neighbours yard.”

He knows that every year Canadians die trying to remove trees and because previous tree damage wasn’t addressed. He noted that last month a 71-year-old Toronto woman lost her life when the limb of a large tree fell on her.

“Please and I mean please don't be the person to take a chainsaw and a ladder and start cutting branches off. I've seen it over and over again,” said Barrie. “I asked a man one day not to do it. I told him that I would come back and do it for him for free, he insisted that he do it himself. I had the bucket truck right there and all the gear on ready to go. The next day he was in the paper because of a mishap that ended his life.

“So please let the professionals handle the tree work. I know we all have a chainsaw, but you're dealing with a different kind of danger when you get into dealing with that stuff. I also understand that sometimes times it can be tough during a storm, money wise for some people. But no one's life is worth a few branches.”

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