Roofers, tree trimmers in Sonoma, Marin counties weary from unrelenting storm calls

Their help has been in such demand that even the some of the largest and long-tenured companies have struggled to keep up.|

The wind and rain that have hammered the North Bay this month with little let up until now have led to some very busy days for tree and roofing crews.

Their help has been in such demand that even the some of the largest and long-tenured companies have struggled to keep up.

“It’s been nutty,” said Steve Clements, whose Mill Valley-based Clements Tree Service employs a dozen tree trimmers and has been in business since 1988.

He recounted a recent run-in with a customer who became irate with him when he told her he’d been called away from her appointment to deal with an emergency removal of a large tree that had fallen on a house.

It was just one of the tough work calls and decisions he’s had to face nearly around the clock in recent weeks, he said.

“If someone has a tree blocking the driveway and they can't get their car out, that takes second place to someone who’s got a tree on top of their house and the water is coming in,” said Clements, whose company specializes in the removal of large trees.

Braving dangerous conditions

As intense as these storms have been, Clements said he’s been through worse and counts himself fortunate he had his crews have come through it unscathed.

Tree and roofing work consistently ranks as among the most dangerous, according to state and federal labor data. Scrambling crews during stormy weather can increase those risks.

Jeff Rebischung, owner of Sebastopol-based Fine Tree Care, narrowly escaped calamity on a recent job.

“I went out to go help some people that had a tree down on the roof, and I had to clear the road of a branch that fell,” Rebischung said. “I took about 7 to 10 seconds too long to get out of my truck because I was trying to put my cellphone in my breast pocket.”

That delay likely saved his life. The branch, which Rebischung said easily weighed 150 pounds, fell and struck his vehicle.

“The side mirror was taken off, the spotlight was damaged, and the front-quarter panel was struck in the way the branch laid out,” he said. “If I had gotten out the moment that I anticipated getting out to go clear the road, I would have been struck by the branch.”

The blur of recent weeks made it difficult for him to pinpoint the date of that close call.

“I'm so tired, I don't remember,” he said.

Rebischung, who founded Fine Tree Care in 1999 and employs 15 people, mostly services residential customers but also does commercial and industrial jobs — all in Sonoma County.

At one point during these recent storms, Rebischung, his crew and fire department responders were trapped on Willow Creek Road in Occidental.

“There were whole trees coming down across the road — 4-, 5-, 6-inch diameter branches that are not falling straight down and they’re falling at quite an angle,” he said. “It is absolutely not safe for us, or for the fire department or for PG&E to be out during the storms, but it’s what we do.”

Occidental road blocked by tree

See what the wind-whipped back roads of Occidental in west Sonoma County looked like during the deadly early January storms. This shows a Fine Tree Care crew responding to a fallen tree on Willow Creek Road that was blocking in a fire department truck. (courtesy of Jeff Rebischung / Fine Tree Care)

Posted by North Bay Business Journal on Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Rebischung offered a plea to property owners — one that he hoped could avert some of the dangerous work in future wind and rain storms.

“We would really appreciate it if people could get their preventive maintenance done ahead of time,” he said. “The reason we’re so busy right now is because of deferred maintenance.”

Roofers race to calls

Swede’s Feeds Pet Garden, a Kenwood novelty gift and lawn art store on Highway 12, is blanketed with merchandise inside and out. Owner Ann Mayers said leaks have been common in bad storms over the years, but this series of storms represented the last straw.

“It’s an old building, built in the ‘50s,” she said, pointing to where there were leaks in the ceiling of the former gas station and feed store.

A crew with Santa Rosa-based Heritage Roofing was recently making its third call at the location, part of a larger $18,000 roofing job, this time involving touch-ups and a quality-control inspection.

“This roof has a lot of leaks. We needed to check what was wrong,” said Julian Hernandez, a 17-year foreman with Heritage Roofing, which has been around for a quarter century.

The back-to-back series of atmospheric river storms resulted in fielding about 50-to-60 calls storm damage calls a day from Sonoma and Marin counties, said company owner Todd Feliciano.

“This has been epic for everybody,” he said.

One of the most recent calls was to a Sebastopol home where a huge oak crashed through the roof. The massive tree covered half the house.

“They were distraught and horrified,” he said of the homeowners, who were had to opt for a new roof.

Roofing nationwide generates about $56 billion in revenue, according to IBIS, a data research firm. It can be an off-an-on business, but the widespread storm damage across the region has certainly turned on the spigot of jobs, proprietors say.

Since the New Year’s holiday, Roof Doctors, which serves a wide swath of Northern California, with bases in the Bay Area and Central Valley, has fielded about 500 calls a day stretching as far south as Fresno, said Quality Control Manager Mike Brodehl.

The surge, including requests for estimates, repairs and inspections, represents a 120% increase in call volume for the company that started in 1987.

Brodehl’s crews average about a dozen leaks and inspections a day.

“This is certainly unusual. We’re worried this is not going to let up for a while,” he said.

Hernandez, the Heritage Roofing foreman, said he’d worked every day since Jan. 1, responding to home- and business calls for leaks.

The timing can be tricky, he said, because some of those repairs can’t be made as the skies pour down.

“When it’s raining, I’ll stay home and relax,” he said. “My body needs a day off.”

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