Actor Jeremy Renner escapes injury as huge tree topples

Actor Jeremy Renner's Friday was much like a scene from one of his action movies, such as "S.W.A.T" or "28 Weeks Later."

Each featured loud crashes, broken glass and narrow escapes.

Just as Renner, a Modesto native, was sitting down to coffee in the dining room of his mother's home on Elmwood Court, a storm-whipped tree toppled onto it.

He said it sounded like "a freight train barreling through the house" when the 50-foot-plus tree fell about noon.

"Human instincts just kicked in," said Renner, 37. "I just heard lots of noise and craziness, and I felt branches and broken glass on my neck, so I started running -- even though I wasn't really sure what I was running from."

Renner's experience was an extreme example of a common problem Friday. All over the region, trees and power lines were knocked down by the wind, sometimes onto vehicles, houses or roads.

The Modesto Fire Department responded to Renner's call and stayed long enough to remove the branches from broken windows and secure the two-story home in the college neighborhood.

"We're getting the windows boarded up, getting the branches off the roof and making sure the house is stable," Battalion Chief Rich Sasser said. "Then we're moving on to the next one, and today there seems to be a lot of next ones."

Renner, a Beyer High School graduate, said he empathizes with firefighters' efforts.

"The city has a long list of things to do today," he said. "This is just another one of them."

Phillip Sterling, 29, who lives next door to Renner's mother, Valerie Cearley, said the tree that fell will be missed.

"It was the last big tree in our neighborhood," he said. "It was the beauty of our street."

Renner said he also was sad to see the tree fall. "I'm bummed about it," he said. "But I'm even more bummed it took out my house."

Tree experts said residents can take steps to keep the same thing from happening.

The best advice is to prune trees months before a storm sets in, they said. But even during a rainy and windy day, residents can look for weaknesses in the roots and canopy, then call a tree service if needed. Many are available at all hours.

Paul Galloway, owner of Galloway Tree Service in Modesto, said sudden cracking of the soil is a sign that a tree might fall.

"You'll see the roots moving a little, tiny bit," he said. "That's a really bad sign. And limbs drooping. That's a really bad sign."

A tree service can prune some of the branches during a storm to reduce the chance of the tree falling, Galloway said.

Sam Anderson, owner of Anderson Tree Experts in Oakdale, said a tree with too much wood in its canopy is an accident waiting to happen.

"It catches the wind instead of the wind going through it," he said.

Galloway said Modesto ash is one of the most vulnerable species in windy weather. Anderson cited California pepper, Italian cypress, flowering pear and Raywood ash.

Modesto and some other cities restrict what residents can do with trees planted near curbs. Modesto has an all-hours number, 342-2249, for people who would like to prune trees that are in danger of falling. Residents of other locales can call their public works department.

Bee staff writer Thomas Pardee can be reached at tpardee@modbee.com or 578-2318. Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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