CHARLOS HEIGHTS - Alan and Tamsen Baum are thankful to be alive after a windstorm that ripped through the Bitterroot Valley early Thursday morning sent a 100-foot-tall ponderosa pine crashing through the roof of their home, demolishing the bedroom where they were sleeping and missing their heads by only a few feet.

The only corner of the Baums' bedroom that wasn't completely destroyed was at the head of their bed, and even then they had to crawl through branches, insulation and shingles in complete darkness to escape.

"That's my pillow right there," Alan Baum said as he pointed to a pile of twisted wood and sheetrock on his bed. "It was just a scramble, a frightened scramble, to crawl out of there."

The top 60 feet of the 100-year-old tree - 3 feet in diameter at the break - snapped off of the trunk and blew 50 feet in the howling wind before it hit the Baums' bedroom.

"I don't mind admitting that it scared the crap out of me," Alan Baum said. "We were asleep when it hit, and we had no idea what was going on at first. It sounded like an explosion. It was pitch black, and we just had to crawl out and find some clothes to put on. Merry friggin' Christmas, huh?"

Tamsen Baum said she is worried about one of her cats, which always sleeps in the bedroom and has been missing since.

"I haven't seen him," she said. "I hope he's OK. I know we're lucky to be alive."

Alan Baum said it took a couple of hours to calm down, and after they went to Hamilton to eat breakfast, he spent the day joking with workers who came to cut up and remove the tree.

"Do you know what her biggest complaint is?" he asked, pointing to his wife. "She got pine pitch in her hair! I'm joking around now, but I'm telling you, it was really scary."

***

The windstorm seemed to be concentrated in the Charlos Heights area south of Hamilton about 4:30 a.m., cutting a swath of destruction along Camas Creek Lane and either snapping or uprooting dozens of towering trees in the area. Wind gusts recorded by the National Weather Service reached 74 mph in Ravalli County. The minimum wind speed velocity for a hurricane, by comparison, is 75 mph.

Power was knocked out in the area as several utility lines were hit by trees, and people in the community spent the day using chain saws and trucks to clean up.

Across the street from the Baums, next to the Charlos Heights Community Church, neighbor Tom Craig said the wind sounded unlike anything he'd heard before.

"It sounded like a freight train or a tornado," he said. "Something out of a movie. It was unbelievable."

Across U.S. Highway 93 from the Baum house, the Heiland family was busy repairing their roof after a giant spruce tree came crashing down.

Heidi Heiland, a senior at Darby High School, was asleep in her second-story bedroom when the tree hit the house, shattering her window and sending shards of broken glass flying through the air.

"It was a huge boom," she said. "Definitely a crazy way to wake up. I'm really lucky my bed wasn't closer to the window."

Along with the huge spruce, a grove of about 15 medium-sized pine trees snapped off at the same time about 100 feet from the house in the Heilands' cow pasture.

"The cows like to sleep in there, so we don't know if there are any still in there or not," Heidi said as she pointed to the mass of downed trees. "If they are, they're dead."

Fortunately, there were no reports of injuries in the area.

Mark Wilson, who lives near the Heilands, said he'll never forget the sound of the wind.

"It was real high pitched," he said. "It was wild, the way it was ripping through our yard."

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at 363-3300 or at david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.

 

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