A large white oak tree crashed to the ground around 5 p.m. Sunday on Winburn Way, between Café Namasté and Pioneer Hall, smashing an old shed and sending a passer-by fleeing into the street.
"I heard a noise like you wouldn't believe," says Ashland resident Nancy Nelson, who was on the sidewalk on Winburn Way, walking toward the restaurant for a chai when she heard the tree begin to fall.
"The ground literally shook," she says. "I thought it was an earthquake at first.
"The door to Pioneer Hall was open and they were having a meeting or something in there," she says. "That's where my focus was. When I noticed the tree, my feet felt like lead. It felt like I was in slow motion when I ran out to the street.
"The tree probably wouldn't have hit me where I was standing, but it was coming fast and it was big."
The tree, which is approximately 3 feet in diameter, caused relatively little damage when it fell.
"It barely skimmed the roofline of Pioneer Hall," Parks and Recreation Superintendent Bruce Dickens says. "No cars were damaged and no one was injured."
The lone casualty of the tree was an old Zamboni shed that now serves as extra storage for Café Namasté.
The tree stood on the restaurant's property and debris ended up on both the restaurant's and city's property. The two parties will handle clean-up of debris on their respective property.
Dickens says that the city consulted an arborist, who believes that the tree may have fallen as a result of Armillaria root disease.
According to a Forest Service website, the disease is a common fungal infection of tree roots that can cause a reduction in growth, wood decay and death. It's difficult to detect as the infection takes place at the roots. Competition by other trees, pests and climate factors can make a tree susceptible to infection.
Further examination would be needed to determine this as the cause, as trees affected by prolonged drought can produce similar symptoms.
Nelson says that she's concerned about another large tree located behind Café Namasté. However, the city intends to check the trees in the area for similar signs of rot.
"We especially want to check the trees on the hills above the skating rink lot," Dickens says. "Many of those trees don't belong to the city, so if we saw something, we'd be sure to notify the homeowners."
Correction: The type of tree has been corrected in this story.