Boise & Garden City

‘I thought a small plane hit her house,’ says Boise resident of toppled tree

Fallen tree causes major damage to Boise home, leaving homeowner devastated

A silver maple tree fell into Diane Shelton's house around 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 21, causing serious damage to the decades-old house. It's not yet clear what caused the tree to fall, though Boise arborists are working to learn more.
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A silver maple tree fell into Diane Shelton's house around 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 21, causing serious damage to the decades-old house. It's not yet clear what caused the tree to fall, though Boise arborists are working to learn more.

Diane Shelton was jarred awake Wednesday morning by a thunderous sound she couldn’t identify.

“I couldn’t figure out the reality of it,” she said. “I walked into the living room and saw the ceiling coming down onto the floor. I could hear my neighbors screaming my name, ‘Diane, are you OK?’ And I thought, ‘I wonder if that tree fell on the house.’ 

It did.

A silver maple that grew 50 to 70 feet tall in the public right-of-way between the sidewalk and street at 22nd and Bella in Boise’s North End uprooted and came crashing down, causing significant damage.

The ceiling in the living room has a large hole over the door. There was dust and debris everywhere, and cracks run through the ceiling into the kitchen.

Neighbor Tony Hauser heard the sounds and called 911.

“I thought a small plane hit her house,” Hauser said. “There was all this smoke, but it wasn’t smoke, just dust and dirt.”

Hauser started a GoFundMe campaign to help Shelton through this. About $400 has been raised so far. Although she does have homeowners insurance, the extent of the damage is not clear enough to know what will be covered.

Shelton was not injured.

The power and gas to the house were shut off, and Shelton is now living with a neighbor.

In examining the tree’s roots and trunk at the site Thursday morning, Boise City Forester Brian Jorgenson said that he saw no obvious cause for why the tree came down. His staff loaded the cut-up tree and trucked it to their offices on the south side of the city.

“I’m trying to figure out what happened to the roots,” he said. “The majority appear to be good.”

The silver maple fell at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

On any other day, Shelton would have been sitting on the couch, she said. That morning she slept in.

The city’s tree ordinance prohibits the planting of silver maples in the public right-of-way, but this tree was planted many years before that policy was adopted. Jorgenson estimates that the tree was 70 to 100 years old, possibly planted around the time the house was built in the 1930s.

Shelton’s parents built the house where she grew up. She returned to live there after her mother died in 1997.

The silver maple has always been a problem, she said.

The first time Shelton called the city forester was in 1999, she said. Jorgenson said he has no record of concern or complaints registered about the tree.

“I said this tree is leaning toward my house at a really big angle,” she recalled. “The head tree guy for Boise at the time came and looked at it and told me it was fine and that the roots would compensate for the leaning.”

She remembers calling at least two more times since then, and “each time I was told it was fine. Day before yesterday I was looking at it again and noticed the sidewalk was cracked in front of the tree. I thought, ‘I’ve called enough times they’re going to think I’m bugging them,’ not that they would have done anything because from the outside it looked healthy.”

Jorgenson did not think moisture was an issue.

“That would have to be repeatedly over a long period of time,” he said.

Wednesday morning in Boise was windy, according to the National Weather Service. Wind speeds at 10:53 a.m. were 25 mph, with gusts up to 35 mph.

Jorgenson said it’s very rare for a tree to uproot and fall over the way this one did; he could recall only a few since he’s been city forester. He said it remains to be determined whether the city will be liable for the damage to the house.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of reaction to this,” Jorgenson said, acknowledging that many other city residents are now wondering about trees in front of their homes.

There are silver maples throughout the North End, said Linda Jarsky, a friend of Shelton’s and a certified arborist.

“They’re soft wood and fast-growing, easy to establish, and they created this beautiful shade canopy,” Jarsky said. “But we don’t have age diversity. They’re all old.”

That doesn’t mean they’re all going to fall over.

“Brian has addressed it, and he’s quite competent,” Jarsky said. “It’s a dilemma for the city. We can’t lose all this canopy, and the city doesn’t have a crystal ball. They can’t tell what’s going to go down.”

The Community Forestry Unit cares for 45,000 to 50,000 trees in city parks and public rights-of-way. The unit will inspect any public tree that residents are concerned about. To schedule that, call 208-608-7700.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller