Two young children have passed away after an oak tree limb fell on the tent they were sleeping in at a popular Yosemite National Park campground Friday. Because they were minors, authorities say they will not be releasing the names or the ages of the children involved, and they ask for privacy after this tragedy. Park spokesman Scott Gediman also says the deaths are currently under investigation.
“Our thoughts are with the families as they grieve this tragedy,” park superintendent Don Neubacher said in an official statement.
Reports say that the children were sleeping in a tent at Upper Pines Campground in Yosemite Valley when the limb fell around 5 in the morning. After receiving several 911 calls to report the incident, medics arrived to find the two dead. The event is under investigation because it is unclear why the limb fell since it wasn’t windy, Gediman said.
“Fallen branches like this one are a common occurrence across the park,” he said.
The campground is at 4,000 feet in Yosemite Valley, right near Curry Village, with stunning views of some of Yosemite’s most popular spots, including the iconic Half Dome rock formation.
This event adds more to the list a fatalities in the park related to trees. A tram carrying 50 passengers was struck by a falling limb in 1985, killing two tourists and injuring nine others. Seven years later, in 1992, it continued when an oak branch struck a tour bus, injuring seven tourists when they stopped on a major road to see Yosemite Falls.
In 2012, there was another limb that fell and led to the death of a concession worker when it fell into his tent cabin during a storm. That was the most recent death due to a fallen tree limb. However, in 2013, a Camp Towango counselor was killed by a fallen tree that crashed into the campfire at a Jewish summer camp.
Though Friday’s event is currently under investigation, many point to California’s drought as the issue. The U.S. Forest Service says the drought has killed more than 12 million trees, and the years without steady water have taken a toll. Not only could falling limbs be due to lack of water, but dying trees are also vulnerable to bark beetles, which chew through trees and cause them to become brittle.
Gediman says that it is too early to say for sure whether or not the drought played a role, but that they have not ruled it out. Oak trees, however, are not susceptible to the bark beetles, so that did not likely play a part.
About 4% of all trees in L.A. parks have died in the last year of drought according to a survey done by the Los Angeles Parks Department. In the year before, only 1% had died, and in a normal year, the number would have been even less. Only time will tell how much more the California trees can take.