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Crew trims huge Cedar Hill oak

Visitors to Cedar Hill Cemetery recently could easily have thought that a tree had dropped from the sky and landed amidst the headstones.

In fact, it was just a branch — a branch with the circumference of regular-sized tree — that had snapped from a red oak tree in the cemetery sometime last week, possibly during the storm, according to Suffolk city spokeswoman Debbie George.

“Technically, it’s a branch, but it’s more like a tree on a tree,” Windsor Tree Service crew manager Brent Doughty said. “I’ve never see a tree this big. A lot of the trees I’ve worked in are as big as this branch that fell.”

The oak measures 27 feet in circumference and is believed to predate the 1802 founding of Cedar Hill Cemetery, making it between 200 and 300 years old, according to various sources.

“I don’t think it has ever been documented, but it’d be my guess it’s every bit of at least 250 years old,” cemetery volunteer Lee Hart said. “It was there long before the cedar trees were planted.”

Hart, a member of the Tom Smith Camp Sons of the Confederate Veterans, has been a volunteer through the organization at the cemetery since the 1970s and has helped maintain the grounds and repair damage throughout the years.

“The trees and falling limbs are always a factor,” Hart said. “You’re going to have that wherever you have trees, but you don’t want to do away with them. It’s part of what makes the cemetery so unique and beautiful.”

The damage the branches may have caused will be minimal in comparison to previous natural incidents. It took a crew Hart was part of two years to clean up after Hurricane Isabel.

The branches that fell from the red oak recently covered about a dozen graves in the back right portion of the cemetery, Hart said.

“We were very lucky — very lucky — that those limbs — if you can even call them that, they’re so big — didn’t do more damage,” Hart said. “If it had hit a more concentrated area, it could’ve hit 30 or more markers.”

While it is still too early to ascertain the exact amount of damage, Hart said he believes the branches missed the fence on its east side, but that there are a few small foot markers and possibly a smaller three-foot tall obelisk on which the branches may have landed.

Doughty said it would take three days to finish the job.

“A two-foot section of this branch weighs 1,000 pounds,” Doughty said. “We’ve got to get it loaded onto a truck to move it.”

To prevent any more branches from snapping during the height of hurricane season, Doughty said he’ll have to climb into the tree and trim off other trunk-sized branches.

“This is the biggest, tallest tree I’ve worked on in Suffolk,” Doughty said. “It’s not one I would’ve wanted to tackle.”