The top of a palm tree fell on a car on Bicknell Street on Friday. No injuries were reported. (photo by Ashley Archibald)

OCEAN PARK — Early Friday morning, a wind blew. Hard.

Around 3:27 a.m., Kimery Sherwood heard a loud sound that shook her from sleep.

“It was like an earthquake, but the ground didn’t move,” she said.

Something else had, though. When Sherwood looked outside, she saw the looming mass of a palm tree had severed the power lines outside her home on the 200 block of Bicknell Avenue and onto her sporty black Saab.

The accident took out power to 1,014 customers from Ocean Park Boulevard to Colorado Avenue, between Sixth and 11th streets, according to reports from Southern California Edison. Power was fully restored by 6:17 a.m.

Residents at the scene reported that their power was still out at approximately 7:30 a.m.

Edison crews reported to the area to control the live wires that writhed on the ground.

The tree succumbed to a debilitating disease called theviliopsis, said City Arborist Walt Warriner.

It attacks the inside of the trunk, which is a bundle of vascular tissue used to bring water up to the green palms, not solid wood like most trees. The interior weakens until it can no longer support the heavy weight of the top of the tree.

As delicate as the trees look, blowing back and forth in the wind, the heads can get quite heavy. The last time city arborists weighed one that fell, it came in at almost 3 tons, Warriner said.

The virus is particularly insidious because the trunk can appear normal and healthy until the moment it gives way under the strain.

Arborists check for the symptoms of the disease by tapping around the trunk just under where the fronds connect, usually while they’re pruning the trees.

“It’s something we’re always on the lookout for,” Warriner said.

Unlike fusarium, a fungus that has infected many Canary Island date palms in Santa Monica, theviliopsis is not an airborne disease. Instead, it’s transported by mosquitoes or other vectors through open wounds in the trees, often created by cuts or gashes.

To prevent transmission, city arborists soak a handsaw in bleach which they then use to prune the palm. Before moving onto the next tree, an arborist will put the used saw back into bleach and use a second saw, also soaked in bleach, on the next tree.

The felled tree, however, was on private property, so city officials never had an opportunity to check the tree for disease.

The palm is of the same variety as a group of trees that have caused controversy on two sections of Georgina and Marguerita avenues.

Part of a citywide initiative to create policy for its urban forest involves identifying species of trees that will be planted on each street in Santa Monica.

A draft plan suggested that dying Canary Island date palms be replaced with Torey pines and sycamores, two varieties of trees with large canopies that provide more shade and soak up more carbon than the palms.

Residents objected to the switch, arguing that the palm allées added to their home values and were an iconic part of their streets.

City officials have, in most cases, agreed to plant Chilean wine palms in the place of the Canary Island date palms, although local nurseries haven’t been able to supply the number of palms that will be needed to replace the date palms as they die off.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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