Some 200 La Cañada households were without water service on New Year’s Eve, after a 65-foot tall pine tree toppled onto a Starlight Crest Drive home and its uplifted roots broke a 12-inch water main operated by Liberty Utilities, officials reported.
Heavy winds occurring overnight likely caused the 46-inch diameter city-owned tree, which arborists reported appeared to be in good health, to fall onto the residence at 290 Starlight Crest.
A building inspector assessed the property and the home was yellow tagged, indicating homeowners did not have to evacuate but were to exercise caution.
The incident occurred around 5:15 a.m. Tuesday near the juncture of Starlight Crest and Crown Avenue, when utility personnel received an alarm indicating abnormal flow, according to Frank Heldman, director of operations for Liberty Utilities.
“We noticed a pressure drop and noted uncharacteristic heavy usage, which would indicate a fire, heavy demand or possibly a break,” Heldman said, explaining that workers immediately responded and located the issue. “It appears when the tree fell over it tore out a part of our 12-inch transmission main.”
Officials contacted the city of La Cañada Flintridge, as the downed tree was in the public right-of-way, and immediately altered control valves, which reduced the number of customer households without water to about 100 to 150, Heldman said.
Crown Avenue resident Tom McLurkin said he got up at around 6 a.m. and noticed the whole house seemed to have lost water pressure.
“It was a trickle,” he said. “I thought maybe it had frozen — it was the toilets, sinks, all the water.”
While McLurkin and other nearby residents waited for service to be restored, crews set up traffic control points and trucked in replacement pipes and equipment.
A crew from city-contracted West Coast Arborists used chainsaws and a crane to apportion and clear the pine from the home and the right-of-way. Utility workers could not access the water wain or assess the situation until the tree was removed.
La Cañada Public Works Director Pat DeChellis received a call from the fire department at around 7 a.m. and called county-contracted building and safety inspector Rodney Parham to inspect the integrity of the home.
Parham observed exterior damage to the front porch and minor cracking of the interior drywall and stucco near the point of impact but said double-paned windows likely prevented the tree from penetrating the home’s interior.
“For a tree this size, that really surprises me,” he said. “When there’s all tempered glass, this is what saves people’s lives.”
DeChellis confirmed the stone pine was a city-owned tree but would not comment on whether the city would be liable for repairing damage done to the residence.
“The tree was in very good health — it’s one of those Mother Nature things,” he said. “The wind was howling up here.”
Heldman said crews worked until about 1:30 p.m. to remove the main body of the tree and dig out its root system. Once the main was uncovered, he said, it was apparent a piece of its top had been ripped off from the roots of the tree as it fell.
“The roots were underneath the water main and when [the tree] blew over, it kind of pried up the main and ruptured the pipe,” Heldman said.
Two lengths of pipe were installed to replace the damaged segment and had to be flushed and tested so water service could be restored to surrounding customers as quickly as possible.