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081215-mis-nws-storm-bitterroot

Don Brannam of Hamilton surveys the damage from Monday night’s windstorm. A 30-foot-tall spruce tree landed his prized 1972 pickup truck that was parked in his driveway on North Cooper Lane.

HAMILTON – When the wind began to howl Monday night outside his Hamilton home, Don Brannam considered moving his prized pickup that was parked in the driveway.

On Tuesday morning, as he looked at the 30-foot-tall spruce that crushed the cab of his truck, Brannam was glad he had stayed inside.

“I could have been sitting right there when the tree came down,” he said.

As it was, Brannam said he hardly heard a sound when the tree was pushed over by winds nearing 60 mph that roared through his neighborhood on North Cooper Lane.

“I heard kind of a scraping noise, but it wasn’t really loud,” he said.

It wasn’t until a neighbor started banging on his wall that he realized the 1972 pickup that his brother had built specially for him had been wrecked.

“That truck was in tip-top shape,” he said. “I drove it from Southern California all the way up here. It’s a shame.”

Brannam was waiting for an insurance adjuster to come take a look at his vehicle before starting the process of clearing away the wreckage.

“My car is in the garage behind all of that,” he said. “Right now, I can’t go anywhere.”

Many residents in the Bitterroot Valley were in cleanup mode Tuesday morning following a spectacular windstorm that many said was the worst they had ever seen in the valley.

Darlene Gould of the Daly Mansion said the windstorm knocked over two of the century-old poplar trees.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Gould said. “It was amazing that nothing fell on the house or any of the outbuildings. We were fortunate.”

Volunteers showed up to help clear away the debris scattered across the sprawling mansion grounds in preparation for this weekend’s Bitterroot Celtic Games and Gathering.

“If this had happened a few years ago, we would have been faced with a much larger cleanup,” Gould said. “We have had a lot of work done on these trees. It’s really made a difference.”

***

In Darby, a huge spruce tree planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps came crashing down in the city park.

Darby Town Clerk Nancy McKinney said it came to rest right between the museum and town hall. The only damage from the close call occurred to a section of the town hall’s roof.

“We were pretty fortunate,” McKinney said.

At the community’s rodeo grounds, the wind managed to knock over the ticket booth and blasted off both ends of a Quonset hut.

Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brad Mohn said the storm kept fire departments from Sula to Florence hopping, but there weren’t any major incidents.

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“We had six to eight calls,” Mohn said. “Most were trees on power lines. There were no major fires. It was mostly just routine calls.”

***

Pat Connell just happened to be in the middle of his first trip ever to the Paradise Guard Station in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness when the windstorm hit.

He ended up spending hours using his chainsaw to cut through trees blocking the Magruder Corridor Road.

“There were some tourists from Illinois that had driven over from Elk City following us,” Connell said. “They were happy that I had a chainsaw. I think I earned my Boy Scout medal that day.”

The first tree they saw that fell across the road was only 75 feet away.

“There are all these big, river-bottom spruce along that road,” Connell said. “I’ve never seen spruce trees whip around like that. It was pretty impressive. There was no real safe place to stand.”

“In cases like that, a hard hat is just a target,” he said.

Connell said it took a few hours to cut their way out. Along the way, they let the lookout at the Bear Cone Lookout know that there might be more people stuck in Paradise.”

Connell said he’s made it a habit to carry a chainsaw in his vehicle when he ventures into the backcountry.

“It’s a real education when you find yourself in a situation where you have to cut a 12-inch log with a Pulaski,” he said.

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