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Another Portland elm tree topples in North Park Blocks, barely missing tent on sidewalk

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 8, 2022

A large tree in downtown Portland toppled early Friday, battering a nearby building and landing within several feet of a tent pitched on the sidewalk below.  (Nicole Hayden/Oregonian)
A large tree in downtown Portland toppled early Friday, battering a nearby building and landing within several feet of a tent pitched on the sidewalk below. (Nicole Hayden/Oregonian)
By Shane Dixon Kavanaugh Oregonian

A large tree in downtown Portland toppled early Friday, battering a nearby building and landing within several feet of a tent pitched on the sidewalk below.

The episode marked the second time in as many weeks that a towering, 120-year-old elm uprooted from the North Park Blocks, this time along Northwest Park Avenue near Couch Street at about 5 a.m.

No one was injured and Portland Park Rangers found the tent unoccupied by the time work crews arrived on the scene to remove the fallen tree, said Mark Ross, a spokesman for the city’s parks bureau.

An almost identical elm came crashing down a block away on Dec. 21. That one crumpled the bed of a pickup truck as it drove down Eighth Avenue and nearly crushed the driver inside, according to witnesses and city officials.

“With extensive recent rain, the soil in these parks and elsewhere throughout the city is supersaturated,” Ross told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “Those conditions can reduce soil stability and potentially result in tree failures like these, especially when wind is involved.”

Ross said the bureau’s urban forestry team planned to inspect other nearby elms in the North Park Blocks and may need to remove some.

City officials already had planned to slowly remove the park’s remaining elms and replace them over time with other tree species, a decision that drew fierce opposition from downtown residents and civic activists when the proposal went before the Portland City Council last year.

The Park Block’s aging, ornamental elms are beloved by many, who consider their stately rows and leafy green canopy an iconic feature. Yet they continue to pose significant safety hazards.

A winter storm uprooted an elm tree along the South Park Blocks last winter while the large limb of another snapped off its trunk in June, city officials said.

In 2012, a 100-year-old elm pulled loose and crashed into St. James Lutheran Church near the Portland Art Museum, injuring a pedestrian. That episode prompted urban foresters to identify potentially hazardous elms in the South Park Blocks at the time and cut down nearly a dozen.

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