Falling tree that caused Mt. Shasta power outage nearly killed local landscape architect

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Herald
A seemingly healthy looking tree gave way Feb. 25, 2021 just as Tom Hesseldenz and others were working in the area on a fuels reduction project.

Update 2:55 p.m.

Mount Shasta landscape architect Tom Hesseldenz came within a few moments of being struck by a falling tree with a failed root system Thursday afternoon as he was working to reduce fuels in the area behind the Mt. Shasta Resort subdivision.

The falling tree struck a live power line, which immediately started a small fire and knocked out power to more than 2,000 Mt. Shasta area residents – about 500 of which are still in the dark, according to Pacific Power.

A seemingly healthy looking tree gave way Thursday afternoon, Feb. 25, 2021 and hit live power lines, starting a small fire.

Hesseldenz said he was working with a contractor and had walked toward one of the nearby houses to talk with a homeowner when he heard a loud crash, which he first thought was a car accident on South Old Stage. He looked back to see a "sizeable" tree, about 18 inches in diameter at chest height, had given way in about the same location where he'd been headed before being distracted by conversation.

The downed power lines immediately began a vegetation fire in a 100 foot swath, Hesseldenz said. 

CAL FIRE crews work to contain a small vegetation fire off of South Old Stage Road in Mount Shasta on the afternoon of Feb. 25, 2021.

He and others in the area called 911 and firefighters from CAL FIRE and the Mount Shasta City Fire Department quickly responded.

"It was loud!" Hesseldenz said. "First the sound of the tree crashing down, then the explosions from the wires shorting out."

The fire is an example of exactly what Hesseldenz and property owners in the area are trying to prevent with the fuels reduction project, he said. In the hot and dry summer months, such an incident could have started a fast-moving fire, especially if dense underbrush was allowed to remain in the area.

Hesseldenz called the experience "sobering" and said it was a strange coincidence that a green, healthy-looking tree would give way at that exact moment.

The area used to be part of Shasta Brown Ranch, Hesseldenz explained, and the tree's roots were impeded by a concrete box structure that was part of an old irrigation system.

For those 500 customers who remain without power, Pacific Power estimates they'll have the lights back on by 8 p.m., according to the company's website.

Update 1:15 p.m.

Power is beginning to come back on in the Mt. Shasta area as crews work to extinguish a small fire off of South Old Stage Road Thursday afternoon.

The Pacific Power website was updated to indicate that power was out for more than 2,200 customers in the Mount Shasta and Weed areas, and another 1,000 in the McCloud area.

Those outages are all estimated to be resolved before 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the Pacific Power website states.

California Highway Patrol and Pacific Power personnel control traffic along South Old Stage Road in Mount Shasta Thursday afternoon, Feb. 25, 2021.
CAL FIRE crews work to extinguish a small fire near South Old Stage Road in Mount Shasta on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 25, 2021.

Original story

More than 1,600 Pacific Power customers are without electricity in the Mt. Shasta area Thursday afternoon. The lights went out abruptly at 12:07 p.m.

According to emergency scanner traffic, two reports were made of a small vegetation fire with power lines down in the area of South Old Stage and Siskiyou Lake Blvd. in Mount Shasta.

Pacific Power is investigating the cause, and crews have been notified, according to their customer service website. There is no estimate for the power's return.

This story will be updated with information as it becomes available.

CAL FIRE crews work to extinguish a small fire near South Old Stage Road in Mount Shasta on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 25, 2021.
CAL FIRE crews work to extinguish a small fire near South Old Stage Road in Mount Shasta on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 25, 2021.

Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and has lived in Mount Shasta and Weed her entire life.