M ollie McCarthy said she has something to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, even after a massive oak tree crashed through her house in downtown Sonora Saturday afternoon.
If McCarthy had not decided to go on a hike with her son in Red Hills about two hours before the tree collapsed, she likely would have been sitting on the couch in her living room that was still covered in rubble Monday.
“You hear people say how grateful they are no one was hurt and it’s so true,” said McCarthy while surveying the damage Monday.
The roughly 100-foot-tall valley oak clipped the second story bedroom of McCarthy’s home, crushed her carport and covered patio, and left a gaping hole in her living room ceiling where part of the roof had caved in.
Nearby power lines were also damaged by the downed tree, leaving hundreds in the neighborhood without power for hours.
Denny Boyles, spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., said about 334 customers in the area lost power at about 2:42 p.m. Saturday.
Boyles said service was restored to most homes within a couple of hours except for the six closest to McCarthy’s home at 159 E. Rose St., which were without power until as late as 8:30 p.m. while PG&E crews replaced the damaged wire.
Sonora firefighters and police responded to the scene to clear any hazardous debris that could affect public safety, according to City Administrator Tim Miller. He said the city isn’t responsible for removing the tree because it was on private property.
American Red Cross representatives quickly responded to the scene and gave McCarthy a credit card with money for food and a hotel room. Her neighbor across the street was holding onto her Thanksgiving turkey, pies and ice cream so they wouldn’t spoil in the meantime.
Despite all of the damage, McCarthy said it could have been much worse.
McCarthy’s son, Ty, a student at Humboldt State University, had arrived in town Friday night and slept on the couch directly under where the roof buckled. She said they were sitting on the couch talking that morning and decided to go on a hike as opposed to watching a movie.
A neighbor called McCarthy’s cell phone and left a message at 2:42 p.m. telling her about what happened moments after the tree uprooted. McCarthy said she believes the tree likely fell as she and her son were leaving the parking lot in Red Hills to return home after their hike.
McCarthy said she was most worried about her 12-year-old cat named Tuesday, whom she found hiding under the staircase shaken but unharmed.
“People asked if I needed anything and I said I just wanted my cat,” she said. “It scared my neighbors so bad I can’t imagine how my cat felt.”
Neighbors reported hearing loud cracking noises just before the tree collapsed, McCarthy said.
She was on the phone with her insurance company throughout Monday. They told her they were planning to send an inspector to survey the damage and arrange for the tree’s removal.
McCarthy said she’s had maintenance work and inspections on the tree over the past couple of years and nothing indicated that it was at any risk of collapsing. However, she often prayed that she wouldn’t be home if the towering giant that loomed over her house ever did come down.
“I drive away almost everyday and say thank you for my lovely home and don’t let me be there if the tree ever falls,” she said.
McCarthy, a hospice worker, has lived at the residence since moving back to California from Ohio in 2011.
The home has been in McCarthy’s family since 1957. It was purchased by her grandparents, Madeline and Joe “Smokey” Poe. McCarthy’s mother, Mary Allred, of Columbia, has owned and rented out the home ever since the late 1980s.
“They had to have the limbs trimmed then and that was 60 years ago,” Allred said of the tree’s large size when her parents purchased the house. “I want a big slice of that tree so I can count the rings.”
Allred believes the tree is at least 200 years old.
Thad Waterbury, a neighbor on the creek, guessed the tree is less than 150 years old because of its location close to the creek’s stone retaining wall that he believes was constructed in the late 1800s.
Although a professional has yet to look at the tree, McCarthy suspected the five-year drought followed by last year’s near-record rainfall contributed to weakening its root system.
More than an inch of rain fell during a storm from Wednesday to late sundown Thursday last week.
Joe Cover, who operates Cover Tree Service in Tuolumne, said he couldn’t diagnose what went wrong with the oak without inspecting it in person, but advised that any tree leaning toward a house or power lines is a concern.
Cover said that older trees can also have compromised root systems, though they appear to be healthy above ground.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.