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Kiff: Fallen tree showed no signs of visible decay

Independent arborist recommends removing trees that lean unnaturally or have a fungus that causes root rot.

November 15, 2011|By Mike Reicher

NEWPORT BEACH — Arborists saw no signs of disease in a city-maintained tree before it fell and killed a motorist in September, the city's top administrator said Tuesday.

The statement comes as newly released records show that many of the other city-maintained blue gum eucalyptus trees are infected by sulfur fungus, which causes root rot and the eventual collapse of trees.

"On the tree that fell, there were no external signs of disease — no fungus, no conks, no fruiting bodies, no lifting of the roots, no visible signs of trouble in the leaves, roots or on the trunk," City Manager Dave Kiff wrote in an email.

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The written statement was the first time Kiff has publicly stated that the tree showed no outward signs of disease before it fell. Newport's arborists do not typically inspect eucalyptus trees' roots below ground, Kiff claims, because doing so would expose the roots to fungus.

Newport's trees are regularly inspected by both city-employed arborists and the city's tree-maintenance contractor, West Coast Arborists.

While the tree in question on Irvine Avenue straddled the city's border with Costa Mesa, it was maintained by Newport Beach.

Last week, the city released records indicating that West Coast Arborists knew some eucalyptus trees on Irvine Avenue were infested by bugs and showed signs of decay, although the notes did not specifically flag the doomed tree.

After that tree fell and killed Tustin resident Haeyoon Miller on Sept. 15, the city hired certified arborist Dan Jensen to analyze all blue gum eucalyptus trees in the city's care.

Three of those reports were released Tuesday morning, but they do not cover the Irvine Avenue trees.

Jensen found that some trees throughout the city are clearly infected by sulfur fungus, and some could fall on peoples' homes, on bike paths and on streets, according to the documents.

Many trees have conks, or "fruiting bodies" growing from them, which is "the sure sign of the disease," Jensen wrote in one of his reports.

Jensen emphasized that trees could look normal from above ground, yet have "a severe case of root rot."

Officials could not say Tuesday how long they have known that many of city's eucalyptus trees were diseased. Jensen wrote that Newport's blue gums have a "history of root fungal activity."

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