LAGUNA BEACH The high fire danger and strong winds this week made the 50-foot sugar gum eucalyptus tree that city officials say appears to have been poisoned a priority for removal.
The city-maintained tree, a fixture in a South Laguna neighborhood, was being cut down on Thursday, Nov. 7.
A five-man crew started work at 8 a.m., removing 15-foot sections and lowering them to the ground to be cut into smaller pieces.
“Normally, we cut the branch and let it fall,” said Samuel Jimenez, the foreman from West Coast Arborists, a contractor hired by the city. “But here we have to be careful with the garage and the high-voltage power lines.”
Jimenez said the dead tree became a high priority for the city with the gusting winds and fire danger.
The tree removal drew interest from neighbors who had watched its decline over the past few months.
“It needed to come down, it was a torch,” said Steve Hayer, who was out on his driveway watching the work. “It was an eyesore.”
Hayer said some of his neighbors were among the first to smell gasoline around the base of the tree and reported it to police.
The tree, a block from the beach at Virginia Way and 8th Avenue, had been under the care of a city-contracted arborist since a vandalism report was made to the Laguna Beach Police Department in August.
The report stated that someone had been pouring gasoline on the tree, said Shohreh Dupuis, the city’s director of Public Works, whose department oversaw efforts to save the tree.
Police determined that a substance that smelled like fuel had been poured around the base of the tree, but they were unable to locate the culprit, she said.
Pepe Mercado said he walked by the tree last week and noticed it was becoming more and more…