Modesto couple ‘blessed’ tree fell as it did

Big Tree Falls Across Modesto Backyard

North Modesto resident talks about eucalyptus that did very little damage. Deke Farrow/
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North Modesto resident talks about eucalyptus that did very little damage. Deke Farrow/

North Modesto resident Sue Hudgens was in good spirits Monday morning for a woman who had an estimated 80-foot-tall eucalyptus tree topple in her backyard.

Perhaps that’s because the big evergreen fell as well as anyone could hope. “It was like God just took it and placed it down where it wouldn’t hurt anything. ... We were blessed last night,” Hudgens said as she surveyed the uprooted tree lying across the backyard of her Corte Madera Avenue home northeast of Sylvan and McHenry.

The tree came down about 11:30 p.m. Sunday during high winds. Hudgens said it woke her, but her husband, Tom, had just gone to bed. “Last night, we didn’t know what damage was wrought, but we knew we were alive and the house was, too.”

In the light of day, it appeared the damage was minimal. The tree fell across the lawn, landscaping and swimming pool, but didn’t strike Hudgens’ home and came just inches shy of hitting the property’s fence. The roots tore up several feet of a concrete landscaping strip. A chaise lounge and a metal planter were bent, but the pool and diving board appeared undamaged. Even a small concrete bird bath stood unbroken beneath the eucalyptus.

It did strike a grapefruit tree. “Our neighbor said, ‘There are grapefruits on the ground and a whole bunch of stunned birds,’ ” Hudgens said.

Speaking of birds, hawks have long nested in the eucalyptus, she said. Hudgens finds them both fascinating and annoying. “You have to wear a hat out here because they dive-bomb you during nesting season,” she said. “But they’re protected.” The only thing the Hudgenses have been able to do, she said, is remove nests when there are no eggs or hatchlings in them.

Hudgens said the tree was sold as a dwarf variety and was planted around 1979 or ’80. The couple have had it thinned out and topped about every three years “just because of things like this. Eucalyptus trees fall.”

Eucalyptus trees, which are native to Australia, have species that grow as tall as 200 feet.

According to an article on the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate website, “These trees have a shallow root system, which developed as a way to survive in a harsh native environment. ... In exposed locations, where eucalyptus trees are subjected to strong winds, a shallow root system presents a hazard to people, homes and other structures.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327