PINE CANYON LAKE — Jim Yakowicz lost about 50 trees in the June 13 storm that tore through Steuben County.
And like its 50 or so odd neighbors all around the 150-acre private lake, trees are still strewn about like Lincoln Logs thrown out of their container on the rec room floor.
Not a single Pine Canyon property was missed, and Yakowicz was one of many hard hit by the storm.
“One of them,” Jakowicz said the morning of Aug. 5 as crews began showing up to continue cleaning and repairing his property.
Rex Platt, who lives across the lake from Jakowicz, estimates more than 2,000 trees were downed during the storm that brought straight-line winds to Steuben County.
And weeks later, the trees were still falling, some in isolated areas and some in yards, like Jakowicz’s. Many other trees are in weakened states and are marked for removal.
Platt was out of town when the storm hit. When he returned home he had to cross the lake by boat as the road was impassable and would remain so in parts of the lake for days. There were residents on the lake who couldn’t go out for three days.
Areas north and west of Crooked Lake appear to have borne the brunt of the storm, with Pine Canyon experiencing a direct hit or straight-line wind or microburst, neighbors say.
A walk around this lake west of Crooked Lake still shows plenty of evidence of the storm more than two months after it happened.
This secluded lake community is built around a lake that was created by a gravel quarry that closed midway through the 20th century. The setting, the makeup of this lake community has no equal in Steuben County. Unlike many forested areas in Steuben County, this lake is mostly pine with little hardwood. The view from the north of the lake area, along the wall of pine trees at the southern end of a farm field, shows where the storm first hit and the path it took.
Platt said all of the Pine Canyon pines — literally in the thousands — were the work of an FFA group that planted them in the 1940s.
The trees now tower over the lake, and because of their close proximity to each other, they depend on each other to stay upright, Platt said. He argues that they were planted too close together at the time.
As you drive counterclockwise around the lake to get to Platt’s home, which he shares with his daughter, Christine Shumway and her husband Edward, there are trees piled up along the road. Some of the clearance was done by the Steuben County Highway Department – the roads in Pine Canyon are county roads – and some by the Steuben County Rural Electric Membership Corp., which had to clear its way to through the carnage to restore power.
Roofing crews are working here and there, and owners report that it has been difficult to find contractors due to steady seasonal demand.
Private tree companies still operate.
“It’s non-stop noise, the chippers and chainsaws,” Shumway said.
“No one missed. Everyone was affected,” Platt said.
“We woke up this morning (of June 14) and we either had a tree in our house or a tree on top of our house,” resident Marsha Beck said.
Jakowicz had five trees on his house. After the storm passed, he was unable to leave his house because debris blocked his door on the road side.
“I couldn’t even get through the front door. There were 26 trees in my driveway,” Jakowicz said.
A lot of work has been done in the two months since the storm, but there is still a lot to do.
“We are getting there. I have a few windows to replace on the other side,” Jakowicz said.
Adding insult to injury for Jakowicz was the fact that his crew had to stop working because they all contracted COVID-19.
“They were cleaning up and then my crew got COVID,” Jakowicz said.
Due to all the cut pines, the Pine Canyon Lake area literally smells like someone has sprayed massive amounts of pine air freshener.
This smell might fade as soon as people outside the lake area learn that there is free wood to take. While pine may not be the best for home heating, people still get it and carry it around, which helps with cleaning, Christine Shumway said.
It helps in an area where there are literally fallen trees and branches along the roads. While most of the debris is pushed out of the right-of-way, some trees are close by and residents are concerned they will impede snow removal if left over winter.
“Obviously the county came and cleaned up the road, but left things on the side of the road,” resident Kevin Miller said at a July 18 meeting of the Steuben County Board of Commissioners.
Miller and Beck were seeking county assistance, but officials said they did all they could.
“We appreciate the arrival of County,” Shumway said.
No disaster assistance is available in Steuben County. Only Allen County and the adjacent counties of DeKalb and Noble were declared disasters following the June 13 storm, allowing businesses and nonprofits to apply for federal loan assistance to low interest rate.
The June 13 storm brought winds up to 98 mph to Allen County. In Steuben County, the estimate provided by the National Weather Service was around 60 mph. Parts of LaGrange and Steuben counties recorded more than 8 inches of rain. Allen County took 9 inches.
Miller said it would cost about $80,000 to clean the common areas of Pine Canyon.
“It’s a bit too much for the owners,” he said.
Residents praise the work of the Steuben County REMC, which worked diligently to restore power to an area where poles and equipment fell along with the trees. Significant damage was done to the REMC system in the area.
“At Pine Canyon, we lost six poles and five transformers, but due to extensive tree damage, we had to re-conduct 10,000 feet of…wire into the subdivision,” said Kevin Keiser, president and CEO of Steuben County REMC management.
The REMC called on the Kankakee Valley REMC crews to help each other, and they did a lot of work in the Pine Canyon area as well as west of there. Crews working for a company involved in the REMC’s fiber-roping operation, Kent Power, were also called in to help.
“In addition to the Kankakee team, we were fortunate to have four Kent Power teams already on site to help us prepare for the construction of the Fiber to the Home project. In fact, these crews had just been working in the Pine Canyon area the week before the storm. So, because of their familiarity with the area and this particular subdivision, they were able to get up to speed on what was needed and quickly begin the restoration process,” Keizer said. “The storm itself was devastating and all Steuben County (REMC) employees and outside construction crews did a tremendous job restoring service in less than three days, which is quite an achievement if the the extent of the damage caused by the storm and the oppression is considered. the heat and humidity that followed.
“The REMC guys were wonderful,” Platt said.
During those three days, the people who lived in Pine Canyon had to improvise. The baths were taken in the lake. We had to draw water. Life was primitive.
“It’s as wild as it gets,” Shumway said.
Before the wood started being hauled, Platt worried about what might happen with all that fuel on the ground.
“If it ever catches fire, you’re going to have a hell of a story because everything will be destroyed,” Platt said.