Thunderstorms pushed over a 200-foot-tall tree Sunday night in the Priest Lake area that killed a camper, sending staffers with the Idaho Panhandle National Forests into a scramble to assess tree stability at developed recreation areas before the busy Labor Day weekend.
Kyle L. Garrett, 48, of Sandpoint, died when the tree uprooted and fell on a tent at the primitive Stagger Inn Campground northwest of Priest Lake, according to the Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office. A 52-year-old woman was treated for non-life-threatening injuries from the accident, reported at about 11:35 p.m.
The Stagger Inn, with four sites, no services and no campground host, is near the popular day hike to Granite Falls and the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars in Pend Oreille County, just west of the Idaho state line.
High winds gusted across most of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, which includes a small corner of northeastern Washington, said Jason Kirchner, a Forest Service spokesman.
With thousands of visitors expected over the Labor Day weekend, the Forest Service will check as many as 60 campgrounds, picnic areas and other developed sites for unstable trees. Depending on conditions, some areas could be closed until the hazard trees are removed, Kirchner said. Information about temporary closures will available at www.inciweb.org.
The strongest winds appear to have hit the Priest Lake area and the Coeur d’Alene range, but forest officials will be working with the National Weather Service to map where the most storm damage is likely to have occurred, Kirchner said.
Members of the Forest Service response team will be looking for signs of insect infestations, broken or cracked tops and other indications that a tree might be unstable. “Just because a tree is green doesn’t mean it’s healthy,” he said.
Deaths from falling trees on national forest lands are rare, but they occasionally occur, according to Kirchner.
Last year, Anne Veseth, a 20-year-old firefighter from Moscow, Idaho, was killed by a falling tree on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.
On July 20, 2012, thunderstorms packed hurricane-force winds that snapped and uprooted thousands of trees, raising havoc across northeastern Washington and North Idaho.
Two people died, cabins were smashed, forest trails and roads were clogged with blowdowns, campers were terrorized and thousands went days without electricity. Some of the heaviest damage was at Priest Lake.
In one of the 2012 deaths, a Walla Walla man was killed when a tree fell onto his pickup truck while he was traveling on a private driveway at Priest Lake.