Roofers, tree trimmers in Sonoma, Marin counties weary from unrelenting storm damage

Over the last few weeks, day and night, tree trimmer Steve Clements has had to make some tough decisions.

“If someone has a tree blocking the driveway and they can’t get their car out, that takes second place to someone who’s got a tree on top of their house and the water is coming in,” said the owner of Clements Tree Service in Mill Valley, specializing in the removal of large trees.

The wind and rain that has been deluging the North Bay since the new year began means those who can pull a limb off a home or sever one blocking traffic, or patch a roof are in demand, taxing both their patience and skills.

“It’s been nutty,” said Clements, who employs 12 tree trimmers and has been in business since 1988.

But even a dozen tree specialists aren’t enough these days. And not everyone is so understanding about it.

One woman recently became irate with Clements when he called her a half-hour before his estimated arrival time to say he had an emergency to pull a tree off a house.

“She was so mean and so mad at me,” Clements said, adding he apologized that she wasn’t happy and suggested she call another tree service, which made her angrier. “So I go and there are little tiny trees over her house. Even if they’d fallen, they’d just lean against the house. Not dangerous at all. But I guess she didn’t understand.”

He continued: “I guess the most difficult customers are the ones that are emotional about their trees. They want us to trim it, but not hurt it (by) cutting a branch.”

Safety risks

As intense as these storms have been, Clements said he’s been through worse and counts himself fortunate he’s not been hurt.

Jeff Rebischung also counts himself fortunate. While out on a recent job, the owner of Sebastopol-based Fine Tree Care narrowly escaped what could have been a fatal incident.

“I went out to go help some people that had a tree down on the roof, and I had to clear the road of a branch that fell,” Rebischung said. “I took about 7 to 10 seconds too long to get out of my truck because I was trying to put my cell phone in my breast pocket.”

That delay likely saved his life. The branch, which Rebischung said easily weighed 150 pounds, fell and struck his vehicle.

“The side mirror was taken off, the spotlight was damaged, and the front-quarter panel was struck in the way the branch laid out,” he said. “If I had gotten out the moment that I anticipated getting out to go clear the road, I would have been struck by the branch.”

Rebischung said the incident happened about one or two weeks ago.

“I’m so tired, I don’t remember,” he said.

Rebischung, who founded Fine Tree Care in 1999 and employs 15 people, mostly services residential customers but also does commercial and industrial jobs — all in Sonoma County.

At one point during these recent storms, Rebischung, his crew and fire department responders were trapped on Willow Creek Road in Occidental.

“There were whole trees coming down across the road — 4-, 5-, 6-inch diameter branches that are not falling straight down and they’re falling at quite an angle,” he said. “It is absolutely not safe for us, or for the fire department or for PG&E to be out during the storms, but it’s what we do.”

And so Rebischung has a plea — one that could help prevent danger in future wind and rain events.

“We would really appreciate it if people could get their preventive maintenance done ahead of time,” he said. “The reason we’re so busy right now is because of deferred maintenance.”

Up on the roof

Swede’s Feeds Pet Garden, a Kenwood novelty gift and lawn art store on Highway 12, is blanketed with merchandise inside and out. Owner Ann Mayers said leaks have been common in bad storms over the years, but this series of storms represented the last straw.

“It’s an old building, built in the ‘50s,” she said, pointing to where there were leaks in the ceiling of the former gas station and feed store.

A Heritage Roofing crew was making its third call at the location on the $18,000 reroofing job, this time involving touch-ups and a quality-control inspection.  Heritage Roofing is a 25-year-old roofing company in Santa Rosa.

“This roof has a lot of leaks. We needed to check what was wrong,” said Julian Hernandez, the 17-year Heritage foreman on the Swede’s Feeds job.

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