By Melissa Sheil
DISASTER struck the Kalamunda History Village last weekend as three half-metre wide trunks split from a large red gum tree, hitting and severely damaging several important structures.
The first two trunks fell around midnight on Saturday, striking the sawpit and the post office, the third falling Sunday night onto the roof of Chambers cottage.
Though it was only the outer fencing that collapsed around the sawpit, the roof and much of the wall of the post office was cleaved in half by the large trunk, damaging many of the artefacts inside and the structural integrity of the building.
Chambers cottage, set up to appear as an old boarding house, also incurred severe damage, with a hole in the roof and shattered windows.
Kalamunda and Districts Historical Society museum officer Tony Crowder said that the incident is a disaster for the village – one that could have been prevented.
“We have been asking for something to be done about that tree for months as it clearly had fungus and rot evident at the base,” he said.
“The City sent out arborists and specialists for an inspection with complicated laser equipment to do some tests on the tree and reported their results to the City.
“They basically said it was all fine and only needed some canopy pruning.
“You see the huge amounts of rot and weak wood in the core of the stump that’s left and you have to wonder how good that machine is.”
A spokeswoman for the City said that corrective procedures were scheduled for this month, but the tree fell before they could occur.
It is unclear whether these corrective measures refer only to canopy pruning.
Mr Crowder said the village is closed indefinitely as damages will takes months to repair, a time frame extended even further since asbestos was discovered in the buildings.
“We [staff and volunteers] won’t be allowed in there for months which is such a shame as the post office celebrates 100 years this year and the Historical Society itself celebrates 50,” he said.
“I estimate it will cost at least a quarter of a million in ratepayer money to fix and even then the heritage value will be lower than it once was.
“It’s a disaster but we are counting our lucky stars that it happened at night when no one was there – we have plenty of school tours and I can’t imagine what it would be like if kids were in there at the time.”
The exact trigger of the tree falling is unknown.
The City blames strong easterly winds, noting that even healthy trees can fall in extreme weather and unforeseen circumstances.
Mr Crowder does not believe the wind was strong enough to be blamed entirely on the nights in question, but suspects the heat and humidity of the day further weakened the rotten area.
“Obviously someone is at fault for not acting earlier to make this tree safe,” he said.
“There is another red gum tree showing similar symptoms that we are also very concerned about and if it fell it would have similar serious consequences.
“I hope something is done before it is too late again.”
The City is now conducting a thorough testing of trees that the Historical Society have raised concerns with, in addition to the inspections that have been conducted over the last two years and working with insurers to assess the extent of the damage.