Tree that killed Madrid man had been checked 20 days before

Fallen branch was rotten but damage was “undetectable,” says city environment chief

Madrid environment chief Diego Sanjuanbenito on Tuesday.
Madrid environment chief Diego Sanjuanbenito on Tuesday.Sergio Barrenechea (EFE)

Madrid City Hall stated on Tuesday morning that the condition of the two million trees in the capital that are the responsibility of municipal authorities is “sufficient,” and that their maintenance is in line with the “recommendations of experts.”

The announcement came in the wake of the death of a man in the Vallecas neighborhood on Monday night after a branch fell on him in the street. The tree in question had, the council claims, been checked just 20 days before.

“Our management is sufficient,” the council’s environment chief, Diego Sanjuanbenito, told the press on Tuesday morning. “We are aware of the concerns of citizens and we want to transmit a message of confidence,” he said, in reference to the “tragic incident” on Monday night.

The 72-year-old man was killed when a branch from an elm tree fell on him in the street in Villa de Vallecas, at around 9.24pm on Monday. The branch, which had a circumference of 80 centimeters, fell from a height of eight meters. The tree itself, Sanjuanbenito explained, did not show any signs of disease nor external damage. The fallen branch was rotten, but the damage, according to the councilor, was “undetectable.”

We are aware of the concerns of citizens and we want to transmit a message of confidence” Madrid environment chief Diego Sanjuanbenito

The tree had last been pruned in 2008. According to Sanjuanbenito, the average period for pruning elms is eight years. The tree in question had been inspected by the external company in charge of maintaining the trees in the area, FCC, on August 19, without “any apparent symptoms.” As such, he argued, the rotten branch was “impossible to detect.”

On June 21, a 38-year-old man died when a 400-kilo branch fell on him while he was playing with his children in the Retiro park in the center of Madrid. City Hall announced several days later that the tree was healthy but had broken due to a loss of moisture and high temperatures.

A month later, a 20-meter cedar tree fell down in the same park, causing light injuries to a seven-year-old girl.

Sanjuanbenito claimed that the council carried out “continuous inspections” to detect risks, and also applied the “appropriate treatments for each species.” The councilor also reported that pruning was increased 60 percent during 2012-2013 compared to the previous year (from 8,611 to 13,927 trees), while fellings went up 236 percent during the same period (from 615 to 2,064).

Before this summer the last person to be killed by a falling tree in Madrid was an 11-year-old boy 14 years ago

But Sanjuanbenito warned that “not even the appropriate management will completely eliminate the risks associated with having trees in the city,” adding that “if we do not manage to calm residents, we would not be doing our job properly.” The environment chief added that “checks and inspections” carried out by municipal contractors would be increased.

Before this summer the last person to be killed by a falling branch or tree in Madrid was 11-year-old Óscar Escudero Rodríguez 14 years ago. The youngster died on April 14, 2000 after being hit by a black poplar that fell in high wind in the capital’s Usera neighborhood.

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