Torrey Pine Down

What caused a healthy 60-foot pine tree to snap at the base and crash down on Torrey Pines Road during rush hour last week? Typically, wet weather can soften areas around roots. But May 14 was dry and sunny when a mature Torrey pine — a rare species and local icon — fell into the street between 3:30 and 4 p.m., blocking two lanes of traffic for over half an hour. There were no injuries, according to San Diego police.

The tree’s weight was probably the culprit, as it stood at a slight tilt, said Dr. Arbor Tree Surgeons owner Kregg Kohl, who helped remove the tree within 20 minutes after arriving on the scene. He also suspected old age, as it was likely over 70 years old.

“It kind of uprooted and it snapped,” Kohl said. The base of the trunk was severely splintered with the tree otherwise intact. The circumstances in which it fell weren’t unusual, said Kohl, but he noted it was not typical that the pulling on the roots from the tree’s weight had not brought up more earth.

The tree was one of many Torrey pines lining Scripps Green Hospital, which contracts Kohl’s company to trim the trees. The trees existed before the hospital was built. Only the fallen tree had grown at a tilt, said Kohl.

“We were just so stunned,” said Kevin LaChappelle, the hospital’s support services director, whose department contacted the tree surgeon shortly after the fall. “I never saw a tree that huge, laying out in traffic…. I was honestly expecting to see a car underneath.

The Torrey pine is one of the rarest native pines in the United States. It is limited to Torrey Pines State Reserve and Santa Rosa Island, off the Santa Barbara coast.

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