Lightning strikes Berkeley tree, sends wood chunks flying

Split tree

This redwood tree at Holly and Buena was struck by lightning and “exploded” according to neighbors and authorities on the scene. Photo: Kat McGowan

A giant redwood tree in North Berkeley was struck by lightning at around 1:15 p.m. today and “exploded” sending chunks of wood flying in all directions, according to authorities.

Several windows and skylights in nearby homes were broken out, but there were no reported injuries, according to Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb who estimated the redwood, which is at the intersection of Holly Street and Buena Avenue, had been reduced in size from 70 ft to about 25 ft.

Listen to today’s thunder in this recording, made at around 1:15 p.m., shared with us by Will Galloway:


Redwood debris

Debris from the redwood tree that was struck by lightning littered streets in the area. Photo: Dan Brekke

“The tree blew apart, and there are chunks of wood everywhere,” Webb said.

The fire department was on scene at 2:30 p.m. canvassing the neighborhood to assess the scope of the damage.

Webb said the fire department received a call about the tree at 1:22 p.m. It is located on the north-west corner of the intersection of Holly Street and Buena Avenue on private property.

Chunks of wood flew as far as 2 blocks from the tree according to authorities. Photo: Dan Brekke

Kat McGowan, who was in the area, said the tree “exploded” and shards of wood flew everywhere. She said the house next to the tree seemed to be “mostly OK” “It was scary/thrilling. Good thing everybody seems to be OK,” she posted on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 2.39.08 PM

The redwood tree at the north-west corner of Holly Street and Buena Avenue which exploded after being struck by lightning. Image: Google Maps

Also on Twitter, Annie wrote that she was two blocks away and it “felt like a bomb.”

The loud thunder and lightning that accompanied today’s rain provoked lots of reaction in the community on social media. Many people reported that car alarms had been set off by the vibrations.

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  • Heather_W_62

    I saw that lightning and wondered whether it hit anything, it was so close.

  • Piero Amadeo Infante
  • guest

    Lightning also struck the redwood tree in my back yard, and the impact/explosion was so intense that it blew out two windows in my house and two at my neighbor’s,. The fate of the tree is TBD by the arborist who is making a second visit tomorrow. This happened around 1:15 PM today in South Berkeley.

  • deb

    It sounded like it hit and split something! I was hoping it was not the giant redwood in my neighbors backyard.

  • deb

    which neighborhood? I am in south central Berkeley and thought it was nearby MLK and Derby.

  • guest

    Yes, look up and south, and you will see a redwood south of Derby between MLK and Milvia. That’s the one.

  • K Lim

    It’s always good to have a reminder of who’s in “charge”

  • Aporove

  • rxa

    I’m at MLK and Derby and it was right on top with no pause between lightning and thunder. Jumped out of my seat.

  • Jack


  • drumnate

    I was at the intersection of Sacramento and Hopkins. I was wondering why it knocked out the stoplights.

  • guest

    Ummm… Save the Redwoods?

  • Tom Weller

    I live ten blocks away. I think it was the loudest sound I have ever heard.

  • guest

    Make that three windows that were shattered. Roof damage TBD. According to the arborist, the tree should come down. Although I am sad to see it go, if it’s a danger to the neighbors, it’s got to go. It’ll be weird to have so much sunlight in the yard, and my dog will be so sad to see her squirrel playground disappear.

  • Kathryn

    I was getting a massage in a sound- proof room at MLK and University at exactly 1:10. I thought ppl upstairs were dragging a file cabinet across the room. For California, that was LOUD thunder. Learned later it was a huge redwood not very far away that sounded like an explosion. Definite mood-killer during a massage but we started over again so I could be relaxed. I expect wild weather like this on the east coast and Midwest but California? It was a first for me.

  • Dls2k2

    On Bancroft just West of Sacto and the house shook with each of those two big thunder claps. The first one made me think the house had been hit by a truck. A VERY loud crashing boom. I guess that was the one that hit Emily Davis.

  • Renee

    I live less than a mile away and it shook my house and shelves like an earthquake.

  • J Nicholas Gross

    These trees are not native to this side of the Bay and should have never been planted in the first place – they are a man made abberration and mother nature is right to be taking them out, even if its one at a time

  • 7LeagueBoots

    Hopefully you’re being ironic. If not you need to check your native range-maps for redwoods.

  • Heather_W_62

    You’re kidding, right?

  • J Nicholas Gross

    Redwoods in Berkeley were mostly (if not entirely) planted by humans, not mother nature:

    they are “native” to areas where there is a large heavy marine layer that they can trap and use to condense into their own “rain” – not present in Berkeley in large enough quantities – every redwood in our neighborhood in N Berkeley was “planted” by a well meaning human but they don’t belong here

  • 7LeagueBoots

    Your original post said, “this side of the Bay,” not “Berkeley. As most historical range maps and the presence of Redwood Regional park (which was not planted) demonstrates redwoods were indeed native to “this side of the bay”.

    Additionally, while the current redwood trees in Berkeley (since you decided to change your original statement to refer to a very small locale rather than the larger region you first stated), large stands of redwoods are indeed dependent on a heavy marine layer, but as even a cursory visit further north into nearby locations such as Sonoma, Napa, and Mondocino will demonstrate, small stands of redwoods are often found inland, far from the marine layer. The land that became Berkeley did indeed have redwoods, especially in the ravines on the hills, just not redwood forests.