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Staff Reporter 

It was not the message Overlie expected

Call from wife alerts him tree had fallen into house during thunder storm


Paul Delaney

Earl Overlie examines the damage from a tree that fell on his home during the July 23 thunderstorm that rolled through Spokane County.

It wasn't the usual call Earl Overlie might have gotten from wife, Bonnie, asking him to maybe pick up a few things at the store on his way home from a meeting he was attending.

Nope, last Wednesday's message had some real urgency attached following the passage of a fast-moving thunder storm that literally blew through a swath of Spokane County, starting about 4 p.m., leaving down trees and damaged homes in its wake.

Unfortunately, that included the Overlie residence on Cheney-Spokane Road where the family has lived since 1990.

Fortunately, it could have been worse, much, much worse Overlie said last Friday. He showed off the damage done when a 70-foot Ponderosa pine fell in the wake of wind gusts that measured nearly 70 miles-per-hour at the Spokane International Airport.

Overlie, a retired teacher from the Cheney School District, had been at a meeting when he got that frantic call. His wife told him he needed to get home quick because a tree had fallen on the house.

Specifically, the bulk of the brushy pine landed on Overlie's workshop that he said, "Had been a work in progress" over the past several years. The falling tree damaged the sofits of the shop. A branch also poked through the roof and ceiling of the shop.

The tree also damaged one of the peaks of his roof on the home, and the steel pipe mast holding the wires that delivered power to the home.

The house was likely spared additional structural damage to the walls and sides because of the tree's location. It had taken root on an elevated slab of rocky basalt. Because it grew out of the rocky base, the tree's root system was not very deep, which contributed to it falling.

"It was a real shock to have that happen," Overlie said. It's real fortunate that there's no damage to the house itself, he said of the rural home on a wooded lot.

The Overlies have had four trees blow down over the years but three were away from the house and posed no danger.

Overlie was unsure how far that damage might extend into the home where the pipe funneled wires to the electrical panel. He was still waiting for a tree removal company to visit to offer an estimate on the tree's removal, which would allow him to further assess damage.

When he arrived at home after the call, Overlie found the tree resting on the roof and tangled in the tree limbs. Those wires hung low but were still attached to the pole and the house.

Cheney Light had apparently cut power to the line as a precaution while they tended to a tree that had fallen into lines closer to Fish Lake, which could have started a fire.

When the power suddenly came back on, Overlie was concerned a fire could start on his roof so he called 911. It was just minutes before a Spokane County Fire District 3 truck arrived to monitor the situation and shortly after that a light crew rolled up.

Daughter Lindsey, Overlie's wife, and his brother, Vaughn, were all in the house when the tree hit. "He thought it was just thunder," Overlie said of his brother's reaction.

Overlie's only concern now is that it doesn't rain, and that things get cleaned up by this Saturday, Aug. 2 when the couple's back yard will play host to a wedding.

While it took over four hours to restore power, Overlie realized fire crews had other more pressing business.

"Kudos to the fire department and the utilities people," Overlie said.

When the lights suddenly came on, Overlie said he made another 911 call and help arrived within 10 minutes. "When the power came on that's when I grabbed a beer," Overlie said.

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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