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Andy Martinez, left, and Lucas McIver of Watershed Consulting clean up debris on Monday from a Ponderosa pine that blew down during a recent windstorm and grazed the side of a homeowner's garage on Missoula Avenue. Several large trees blew over within a few blocks of the area during the storm.

MISSOULA — If a tree growing on private property gets knocked down during a storm – as happened around the Rattlesnake last week – it’s up to the homeowner to clean it up, according to the city of Missoula's urban forester Chris Boza. 

That is, unless it falls into the public right-of-way, or onto power lines. Then, the city or utility company clears that portion of the problem.

The recent snowstorm hit the Rattlesnake area particularly hard, with several trees landing on or near homes; including one that partially blocked a roadway. 

When a street is blocked, Boza said the Urban Forestry Department is dispatched to deal with the debris, so long as there are no downed power lines or other utility hazards. 

"Normally what happens is someone calls 911 and that information is filtered down to us," Boza said of the process. "If there are no power lines or other overhead utilities involved, we go out and clear the right of way. But if there are downed wires, we do not go in until those lines are out of the way." 

The city cautions people never to go near downed trees tangled in power lines, but to call NorthWestern Energy right away, said Rebecca Goodrich, communications director for Missoula's Parks and Recreation Department.

The city cautions people never to go near downed trees tangled in power lines, but to call NorthWestern Energy right away, said Rebecca Goodrich, communications director for Missoula's Parks and Recreation Department.

During last week's storms, a 65-foot Ponderosa pine fell between Drew Carr's home and his neighbor's house, with the tree grazing the south side of his garage. The tree caused minimal damage to the garage itself, something Carr knows could have been much worse.

"I was always worried about it only because our kids' rooms are on the corner," as is the other house, said Carr, who's lived in the Rattlesnake area for a little over five years. "It made a decision for us that I probably wasn't going to make, which was to cut it down."

The pine uprooted around 11 p.m. on the night of Dec. 29 or 30 and brought up a portion of the gas line that ran between the houses. Carr said he quickly got his family out of the home after smelling gas before the fire department showed up and fixed the problem.

Neighbor Wes Keller said he was watching the trees sway in the wind that night and had a feeling one may come down.

"It was crazy 'cause the rest of Missoula didn't have what we had up here," Keller said referencing the wind gusts, adding that the sound of the tree falling wasn't as loud as he would've suspected. "It's strange for sure." 

While Carr and Keller referred to the high winds as micro-bursts, meteorologist Ryan Leach of the National Weather Service didn't characterize it as such. 

"A micro-burst isn't something that happens around here in the winter time," Leach said. 

A micro-burst can form in a couple of ways, he said, most commonly around here when there's dry air underneath a thunderstorm and the rain evaporates as it falls into it. The evaporation causes the air to cool, making it heavier so it sinks faster and faster to the ground. Once it hits the ground it causes a micro-burst, "but that's not something that's happened here recently," Leach said.

While a private, two-man crew from Watershed Consulting worked to remove the tree, Carr was able to find a silver lining from the incident. 

"It actually was shading out my side garden quite a bit, so I didn't love it there," Carr said of the fallen tree. "I did tell my wife that night, 'Well, less shade on the garden.' "

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