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Storm wrap-up: High winds down trees, kill camper

A raging windstorm that swept through the Rogue Valley in the wee hours of Thursday brought down many trees and powerlines, closed schools for the first few hours and sent a tree down on a homeless man camping in a tent on Mt. Ashland, killing him. 

Phillip T. Crosby, 40, and his son, Alexander, 18, were camping on the Pacific Crest Trail about a mile from the Mt. Ashland Ski Lodge. The son called 911 at 5:27 a.m. Thursday.

Jackson County Sheriff's Lt. Marty Clark confirmed responding crews from Ashland Fire-Rescue, the Oregon Department of Forestry went to the mountain, finding Crosby dead at the scene. A tree blown over by the wind knocked down a second tree, about 20 feet tall and about 8-10 inches in diameter. That's what fell on the man and killed him, said Clark. It evidently struck the father in the arm and chest. Phillip Crosby complained of difficulty breathing, then died of his injuries a short time later.

The son and his father were living in Sunny Valley until they recently became homeless, said Clark, and were reportedly en route to Arizona when the tree fell. Their dog was in the tent with the father and was slightly injured but is now with the son. The son was unhurt  and was taken to the Maslow Project in Medford, a nonprofit group that helps homeless youth. Relatives are coming from out of state to get him.

In Ashland, no injuries were reported, but, said Tighe O’Meara of the Ashland Police Department, trees fell on two unoccupied cars and many power lines, creating a patchwork of outages all over town.

“We got off to a bumpy start this morning,” O”Meara said. “We had some problems with traffic lights because of power lines. We handled it rapidly with normal staff. It was nasty but under control soon.”

The storm blasted out of the northwest, with its highest average speed of 60 mph at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and highest gust of 74 mph at 2:55 a.m., according to the Ashland Weather Station, http://weather.sou.edu.

A city of Ashland news release put the number of trees blown down in the dozens, with more suffering “significant damage.” A number of street signs were also downed. City crews concentrated on clearing trees blocking roadways. Both of the city’s street sweeping machines went to work in the mid-morning Thursday after winds subsided somewhat and stopped blowing fresh debris into roadways.

A row of younger deciduous trees lining Iowa Street at the Southern Oregon University athletic fields were blown over behind a chain-link fence, not blocking traffic.

A tree crashed down on Madrone Street, narrowly missing a house and crushing a boat shelter.

A shaken Jerry Nutter said a blue spruce he thinks was about 100 feet tall nearly killed him when it toppled about 7:30 a.m. Thursday. Instead, the thunderous crash merely awakened him as the tree brushed up against the room in which he had been sleeping at his home in the 1300 block of Madrone Street, just south of Southern Oregon University.

"Whoa, what was that?!" Nutter recalled thinking. "I looked out and all could see was tree."

The tree's trunk and voluminous branches did crush a portable boat shelter in his driveway, but even there Nutter lucked out: He recently sold the boat and the shelter was empty.

A tall fir fell from Bayberry Inn on North Main, landing in the parking lot of Big Al’s Drive In. It was being hastily sawn up and removed all day by Daniel O’Rourke and Josh Dayne, who allowed it was a heck of a night.

“Dozens of trees fell, some on cars, some on power lines, but with no immediate safety hazard,” said Ashland Public Works Superintendent Mike Morrison. “Electrical crews were helping with traffic control, early on. No major streets were blocked. Several signs went down. Some storm drains clogged by we just raked the debris away. There wasn’t that much rain. A lot of trees went down on private property and they’re going to have to deal with it.”

Some 11,000 Ashland customers took power hits, but two-thirds of those were fixed by mid-day, said Dave Tygerson, general foreman of the city Electric Department.

Openings of Ashland High School and SOU were delayed to about 10, the usual “late start” time,” he adds. The waste water treatment plant and Asante Ashland Community Hospital were not affected.

Calls to the Fire Department about powerlines and trees jumped to three times normal, with some trees falling on houses, but without needing fire-rescue help, said Battalion Chief Dana Sallee. Many calls were about trees falling into higher wires, he adds, which carry the big juice over 15,000 volts.

The busy signal light at the intersection of Siskiyou Boulevard at Wightman Street, part of the state highway system, was the most troubling bottleneck when the light stopped working and all drivers had to treat it as a four-way stop sign. It was still dark at midafternoon Thursday, Sallee said.

Today's forecast calls for a chance of showers, with thunderstorms possible after 10 a.m., according to the National Weather Service, but things will have a chance to dry out Saturday, which should be mostly sunny.

John Darling is a freelance writer in Ashland. Ryan Pfeil and Bert Etling contributed to this story.