How do loggers get killed by falling trees?

Up here in New England there are usually about a half-dozen news stories a year about logging fatalities in which the logger is killed by a falling tree. I was looking at trees today and trying to figure out the mechanics of how someone might get killed. Assuming the logger doesn’t trip or misstep, wouldn’t you have enough time to dive out of the way? I’m not talking about giant redwoods but average sized trees. Does anyone know how these accidents happen?

Trees don’t always fall the way you think they will.

After all, when you’re hacking away at a tree you’re destroying the support for a large, heavy object (LHO). Assuming the logger is competant, this is done in a manner to make the LHO fall in a particular direction. Trees, however, are not symmetrical objects. Parts may be rotten or hollowed out, changing the weight distribution and center of balance in ways not visible, resulting in the LHO swaying to instead of fro. I would expect a good wind gust at the wrong time could cause problems, too.

And never discount the “stupid drunken fool” factor.

I suspect a lot of these injuries and fatalities are caused by the base of the tree “kicking out” as the tree starts to fall. Once you’ve cut all the way through the base, and the top starts to fall away from you, the lower end of the tree will sometimes kick back at you. It happens quickly, so you wouldn’t have time to get out of the way.

That’s what happened somewhere near here about 6 or 7 years ago. A logger was found pinned under a tree which had obviously “kicked out” by the landowner who had noticed the logger’s truck was still there.

The first thing I thought of was kick back, like Early Out mentioned.

Any other Canucks out there recognize that quote from a cartoon short on TV (late 70’s-early 80’s?). I think it was an educational short on loggers in general, but I can’t remember more…

The only Canadian logging short I remember is that amazing one with the guy dancing across town/the doctor’s office/the logs to some great movie. He’d do acrobatic tricks using his log-poker.

Ahh, the “log-rider” one…how did that song go?

The real trick to felling a tree is to get it to go in a direction that it doesn’t ‘want’ to go. Often a tree will be leaning toward one direction, or have more branches on one side, yet there’s a building or something in that direction. So Joe Logger wants to make it fall in another direction. There’s the rub, and that’s when it can get quite unpredictable.
All kinds of things can happen. I’ve seen a guy try ‘pulling’ a tree away from it’s natural fall line with a cable hooked to a tractor while it’s being cut. That’s a good way to get your tractor snapped back into the air like a matchbox car.
Or a tree might decide to settle on the chainsaw, instead of begin leaning away from the cut. The logger will get in the wrong position while working to free his pinned chainsaw and then, suddenly, it topples.
Or the falling tree will glance against another tree and its fall line will suddenly change.
Or the top 40’ of the tree will snap off and fall in the opposite direction from the main trunk.
Or a 400lb limb will break off and fall on the logger.
Or the limb will kick back as it hits the ground.
Trees that are split trunked, have big gall spots (‘cateyes’), lightning scars, or are unevenly weighted all are higher risk and require extreme caution.

Yep, they used to run it on YTV between programs back in the late 1980s. I recall it was a cartoon which featured a stereotypical (though vertically-challenged) lumberjack dressed in a plaid flannel shirt. When the narrator was explaining the progress of electric-powered saws, the lumberjack came up with all a manner of chainsaws, uprooters, circular saws, and other contraptions, all of which failed to cut down trees. The “Never turn your back on a falling tree” bit was the very last thing the narrator said – almost as a postscript.

If we’re think of the same one, it’s “The Log Driver’s Waltz”:

Oh, I should warn that the link plays music.

Another big problem is when a limb is broken off and hangs up in another tree. These can sometimes fall unpredictably, it doesn’t take a big limb falling 50 ft to do a lot of damage.

I have a buddy who’s a logger in Montana. He said falling trees are (obviously) dangerous, but that more people are hurt using the heavy equipment required to cut and haul away the trees.

oh, I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay
I sleep all night and I work all day
he’s a lumberjack and he’s okay
he sleeps all night and he works all day

I cut down trees, I skip and jump
I like to press wildflowers
I put on women’s clothing
And hang around in bars

Anytime you are dealing with falling objects which way several tons and up, Bad Things can happen.

Add in unexpected winds, chain binds, snags, breaking tree trunks, weird weight distributions, and Murphy’s Law, and Bad Things are almost guaranteed.

Anyone who has worked in the woods for any length of time has stories of close calls, if not worse.

(I recall one aquaintance who had a two-foot diameter tree hung up by a one-inch branch thirty feet up. He got out his trusty rifle and proceeded to try and shoot out the branch. I don’t know where his fifteen or so shots wound up – the caliber he was using could carry for many miles…)

Another thing to remember that the wood in a tree is elastic and is under load from its own weight. Cut it or start it falling and it can snap or shift direction explosively, like when you bend a sapling to a ground and then let it go.

My great-great grandfather was killed by a falling tree in Maine circa 1890. I inherited half a 40-acre woodlot and I leave the woodcutting to the professionals; it’s a dangerous business.

oh, I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay
I sleep all night and I work all day
he’s a lumberjack and he’s okay
he sleeps all night and he works all day

I cut down trees I skip and jump
I go to the lavatory
On Wednesdays I go shopping
and have buttered scones for tea

oh, I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay
I sleep all night and I work all day
he’s a lumberjack and he’s okay
he sleeps all night and he works all day

… I forget the rest …

What happens when you use a chainsaw & it hits a large nail in the tree?

I picked out a large dead tree one Fall day, and figured it had enough wood in it to last me a winters worth of fire place burning. Couldn’t get my arms around it and it rose about 30 ft. Cut the V notch and then started to cut straight in from the opposite side. With a crack, it slowly started to fall in the direction of the V cut, caught it’s upper branches in the trees around it, swung off the stump, fell straight down and re-planted itself in the earth as if I had never cut it to begin with. Time of entire procedure, about two hours. It still stands there today, waving it’s dead branches at me whenever I walk past it. Bastard.

Trees do whatever they please. I’ve had trees 180 (go exactly the opposite direction you want, fairly common), fall 90 degrees from the intended direction (not common, pretty darn dangerous), kick back, hang up, and refuse to fall.

Of those, getting a hung tree down is probably the most dangerous. You’ve got a multi-ton object being supported by a bent smaller tree, just waiting for any break to fall the remaining way. They go practically instantly once the tree/branch holding them up is removed, or even the first axe hit.

One of my worst stories was cutting a 50’ ash that hung up in a nearby tree crown. I cut the base (took a 5’ section off the butt end of the log) and it swung further down and dug itself into the ground. I took another section, then a third, until the remaining tree was swinging freely in the air, supported at the crown. &$(#@ tree!