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In Yosemite National Park, camping under oak trees could be dangerous in the summertime

Dying trees can be seen in the Yosemite forest Aug. 15, 2015. Officials say an oak tree limb fell on a tent in the heart of Yosemite National Park killing two young campers.

Dying trees is seen in the Yosemite forest Aug. 15, 2015. Officials say an oak tree limb fell on a tent in the center of Yosemite National Park killing two young campers.

Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

In late July of this past year, as night fell on the Housekeeping Camp in Yosemite National Park, Kathi Andrews and her grandsons returned from the restrooms with their cabin. Andrews was nearly to climb into bed, when she heard probably the most tremendous cracking and crashing sound.

I actually put my hands up over my head as the sound was so near, Andrews told SFGATE. I heard screams from another campers.

Andrews lives in Oklahoma but has been camping with her family in Yosemite National Park just about any summer since 1964. Her father first brought her when she was 5, and she continued the tradition with her husband and their four children, who now bring their very own children on the yearly expeditions.

The household has stayed in tents, trailers, cabins and lodges over the park, and hiked all the popular trails. But Andrews had never heard anything like this cracking sound.

She grabbed her flashlight and rushed outside, where other campers were gathering to determine what happened. On the road that led back toward the toilet, her flashlight illuminated an enormous branch, completely blocking the region where she had walked with her grandsons just moments before. Shining a flashlight up a nearby oak tree, Andrews could see where in fact the branch had broken free.

It had been incredible! she said. Each morning, the enormity of our close call took my breath away.

A black oak tree and its fallen limb, from Cook's Meadow, in Yosemite National Park.

A black oak tree and its own fallen limb, from Cook’s Meadow, in Yosemite National Park.

National Park Service

When these incidents happen in Yosemite National Park, visitors who survive them may believe that something unusual has had place, something extremely unlucky. But actually, rangers aren’t surprised by such events.

They have even a name for them, alongside an acronym: SBD. Summer branch drop and climate change could possibly be exacerbating the problem.

SBD occurs when seemingly healthy trees suddenly lose large branches unexpectedly, based on the parks website. It will happen on warm summer days, and even though SBD can occur with any kind of tree, in Yosemite, the black oaks are particularly susceptible.

Cool down underneath an oak tree is among the greatest pleasures following a long trek in the summertime sun. However, a wonderful picnic or siesta in the shade could be dangerously disrupted by summer branch drop, a Yosemite employee recently posted on Facebook as a safety reminder. Generally, this is a good idea in order to avoid sitting or establishing a tent directly underneath large oak branches. Be familiar with your surroundings and don’t leave immobile people, such as for example infants or older people, directly under large oak trees. In the event that you hear a loud crack from the tree, quickly move away from the region.

The Facebook post drew comments from a large number of Yosemite enthusiasts, plus some including Andrews shared their very own stories or those of individuals they knew. One user wrote that she became a victim of SBD last July, whenever a large pine tree branch fell and fractured her arm in the Wawona section of the park. Another commenter, Marguerite Syvertson, wrote that her senior high school classmate Greta Breedlove have been involved with a tragic accident.

She and her husband were on the honeymoon in Yosemite whenever a branch fell on the tram and killed them both, Syvertson told SFGATE. About 20 other folks were injured in the incident, where a 6,000-pound oak branch fell 30 feet into an open-air tram, based on the book “Off the beaten track: Death in Yosemite” by Michael Ghiglieri.

Breedlove have been students at UC Davis at that time, Syvertson said, and there’s a bench close to the freshman dormitories focused on her memory. Syvertsons son would go to UC Davis, and she’s visited the bench.

Recently, there were additional injuries and deaths linked to SBD.

Mason Kropp rests in his hammock Aug. 15, 2015, directly across from where park officials say an oak tree limb fell on a tent in the heart of Yosemite National Park, killing two young campers.

Mason Kropp rests in his hammock Aug. 15, 2015, directly across from where park officials say an oak tree limb fell on a tent in the center of Yosemite National Park, killing two young campers.

Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

In 1992, a tour bus was stopped across the Merced River so the passengers could view Yosemite Falls. As a tour guide spoke, an oak branch fell from above and injured seven people.

In 2012, concessions worker Ryan Hiller, 27, was inside his tent cabin throughout a windstorm whenever a tree limb fell onto it, killing him.

In August of 2015, students Dragon Kim and Justin Lee were sleeping in a tent within top of the Pines Campground in Yosemite Valley, a favorite spot for families. An oak limb fell on the tent at about 4: 15 a.m., killing them both. Park officials said it hadnt been windy that morning, also it was unclear why the limb fell.

Fallen branches such as this one certainly are a common occurrence over the park, Yosemite National Park spokesperson Scott Gediman told the LA Times. In reaction to an inquiry from SFGATE about how exactly frequently folks are injured and killed by falling branches within the park, Gediman said the park will not track injuries and fatalities predicated on type or location, nor does it keep stats on falling branches.

Gediman did provide some insight into why branches could be falling, although SBD isn’t fully understood by scientists. With drought conditions, there may be less moisture in the trees, that could be considered a contributing factor, Gediman wrote within an email.

New leaves grow on an oak tree in Yosemite National Park.

New leaves grow on an oak tree in Yosemite National Park.

Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images

Years of drought conditions experienced a severe effect on Yosemites trees, plus some scientists think that too little water could possibly be an underlying cause for tree branches suddenly snapping off. Others believe internal cracks due to wounds, age or stress may be at fault, but nobody knows for certain.

Whats clear is that the strain of climate change is going for a toll. Extreme storms, warming temperatures, drought, disease and insects are killing trees all around the park. Finally count, in 2017, officials found 2.4 million dead trees over just 131,000 acres probably the most dead trees ever counted in the park.

In accordance with Yosemites website, the National Park Service has increased staff for identifying and removing hazardous trees. Since 2016, a lot more than 5,000 trees posing risks alive or infrastructure have already been removed every year from campgrounds, picnic grounds, roadsides and housing areas. Its extremely hard to avoid SBD, needless to say, because the trees appear healthy.

For Andrews and an incredible number of other visitors, needless to say, the risk of SBD isn’t going to stop them from hanging out in the park. Actually, Andrews yearly family trip is approaching in late August. She does, however, have an idea for avoiding SBD.

You better think that whenever we camp in Yosemite in a few days, we are steering free from oak trees, she said.

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