A massive, 180-year-old oak tree split off from another tree and landed on top of a home in downtown Safety Harbor over the weekend.
The incident occurred just before midnight on Friday, Dec. 8 as Janice Boyce was sitting in her living room watching TV.
“I was sitting on the couch watching Shameless and I got up around midnight to get something from the kitchen and all of a sudden I heard a splintering crash and glass breaking,” Boyce, an 18-year resident of the Fourth Avenue North home, told Safety Harbor Connect Monday.
“I looked up and saw a hole in my room with a branch sticking through it. I started shaking. I picked up the dog and ran outside, but the gate was locked and power lines were down, so I had to bend the fence near the garage to get out. It was like a freaking movie!”
Boyce was the only one home at the time; fortunately her daughter, Kayla Coluzzi, was out with friends, as the bulk of the tree landed directly in her bedroom.
“My mom called and said ‘there’s a house in our tree’ and I was like, what are you talking about?!” Coluzzi, a 27-year-old Safety Harbor native, said.
“She meant to say there’s a tree in our house, but she was so shaken up it didn’t come out right.”
“I raced home and saw what happened,” she added. “There were no words. I was shocked. This is the house I grew up in. I used to climb in that tree as a kid!”
As awful as the damage was, Coluzzi said there was a bright side.
“Luckily I wasn’t home, because my bedroom is right in the front,” she said. “And thankfully my mom wasn’t hurt.
“But I’m worried about my fish. I’ve got two 10-year-old Oscars in a 75-gallon tank right near where the tree landed, and I can’t go inside to get them out of there.”
According to Safety Harbor officials, the unfortunate accident was the result of two co-dominant trees finally going their separate ways.
“Codominant trees happen when two trees grow together but there are no roots between them,” city arborist Art Finn told Safety Harbor Connect as he surveyed the damage on Monday afternoon.
“The roots grow on the outside of both trees, and when you get an old tree with a lot of weight on one side and it reaches a certain height, it’s destined for failure, and that’s what happened here.”
Finn estimated the trees at roughly 180-200 years old and that about 8 tons of weight was resting on Boyce’s home.
He said codominant trees are commonplace in Safety Harbor, and each one is subject to failure.
“This is our most common failure in Safety Harbor,” he said, noting it can be prevented by trimming the canopy to help keep some of the weight off. “It’s a structural defect these tree have from the time they are born.
He said part of his job is to do a free assessment of questionable trees and advise the homeowner what they should do about the situation.
“It’s important for people to know why this is happening and to understand that not all old, big trees are dangerous, but some are, and they can be taken care of before something like this happens,” he said.
While co-dominant trees are commonplace, Finn admitted what happened at the Boyce home was a rare occurrence.
“Usually they don’t damage a house,” he said. “They fall in a yard, or on a fence. I’ve only seen this one other time in my more than 20 years as an arborist. I hate to see it happen in anyone’s yard.”
On Monday, city workers chopped some of the branches off the surviving tree to help balance the weight and reduce the risk of it falling in the opposite direction.
Finn said the homeowner is responsible for the removal of the tree on the roof, a dangerous process that could cost several thousand dollars.
“People get killed taking trees like this down,” he said. “You have to be very careful what you cut because removing the wrong branch could cause the tree to shoot straight back up in the air.”
Late Monday afternoon, Boyce was still waiting for the insurance adjustor to come and assess the extent of damage to the home.
She hasn’t been allowed to reenter the house, as the tree is unstable and has shifted noticeably since it fell.
In the meantime, Boyce and her daughter have been relying on the kindness of neighbors to help them get through this difficult time.
“My neighbors have been so great,” Boyce said, adding she is staying with a friend across the street while her daughter stays with a longtime childhood friend a few houses away.
“I think everyone within a three-block radius has come by or contacted me, asking what they can do to help. A stranger who lives nearby even offered me their guest house. That’s why I live in Safety Harbor and I love Safety Harbor.”
While she admitted the home is old and in need of repairs, Boyce said she isn’t ready to move on.
“My daughter grew up in this home, and I want to leave it to her so she can raise her family here,” she said as Coluzzi nodded and started tearing up.
“This is an old house that needs a lot of repairs, but it’s been my home for 18 years and I’m hoping it can be saved, because there’s nowhere else I want to live.”
Note: If you would like to help Janice and Kayla with any financial hardships that will result from their situation, a longtime family friend and neighbor has set up a GoFundMe page for the family.
Here’s a look at the damage the 180-year-old sand oak did do a downtown Safety Harbor home over the weekend:
- 17-Year-Old Pulls Grandfather From Safety Harbor Blaze
- Safety Harbor Community Coming Together To Aid Fire Victims
- Felled Spa Trees To Be Made Into Custom-Carved Furniture Items