You are here

Disaster Relief: Clearing Debris from Land

Publication Number: IS1711
Updated: March 21, 2016
View as PDF: IS1711.pdf

You alone are responsible for clearing debris from your property after a damaging natural event.

Determine Priorities

Here are some guides for setting priorities for clearing debris from land after a severe storm:

  • Land use and value—Clear streets and roads to allow emergency vehicles to pass freely. In yards and pastures, remove any lumber containing nails or other pieces of metal that could injure people and/or livestock.
  • Equipment available—Power saws, tractors, bulldozers, and trucks can be used to move fallen trees. If you have access to small equipment only, remove tree roots and small limbs before attempting to clear the area.
  • Type of debris—Different vegetation requires different cleanup and salvage procedures. In woodlots and forests, experienced foresters should designate salvageable timber. You may need specialized equipment to clear large areas efficiently.

Remove Debris

Here are some ways you can remove tree debris:

Bulldozing

  • Inspect damaged trees to see if they can be salvaged. Contact an Extension horticulturist or forestry specialist for this work.
  • Remove valuable trees before clearing debris.
  • If possible, attach a rake to the front of the bulldozer. This will let most of the soil pass through the teeth, eliminating undesirable mounds of soil.
  • If stump removal is desired and you plan to use bulldozers, leave stumps 6 to 10 feet high for leverage. If you use a stump grinder, remove trees at ground level.

Burial

You can bury tree debris, but the cost is high. Use a chipping machine for smaller branches to reduce the burial space you need.

Landfill

You can put tree debris in eroded gullies (where the land is not practical for terracing) or in low-lying areas. Consult a water resource specialist to determine how the landfill will change the water’s path. Typically you will need a bulldozer or other large equipment for this work. It can be dangerous to use a tractor to push debris into gullies.

Burning

Let trees dry until foliage begins to fall off. Put debris in large compact piles a safe distance from surrounding structures or other flammables. Fuel oils may be necessary to ensure combustion. If so, exercise extreme caution and maintain a safe distance when igniting debris piles. Stoke piles and keep fire alive until all woody material is burned. In some areas, you may need a permit to burn debris. Burning may be prohibited in some communities because of smoke pollution.

Safety

Remember, safety always comes first, and even if you are used to working with damaged or fallen timber, observe safety precautions to prevent injury or death.

  • Stabilize ladders when pruning trees, or climb into trees to prune. Use a safety rope.
  • Watch for falling limbs.
  • Be careful of electric power lines. Leave extensive pruning around power lines to power companies. Wet limbs or dirt- or soil-soaked control ropes on pruning equipment can be hazardous. Do not use pruning equipment with metal handles.
  • If you have never used a chain saw before, try to find someone with experience to help you after a disaster. If you are experienced with chain saws, observe all safety precautions. Use a sharp saw. Shut off the saw, even when moving only a few feet. Remember that you can’t shout or hear warnings when the saw is running.
  • Clear the area before beginning to saw limbs or trees. Determine the direction the tree will fall. Try to limit felling trees into other trees. Plan an escape route in case the tree jumps off the stump when cut.

Information Sheet 1711 (POD-03-16)

From The Disaster Handbook - 1998 National Edition, University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences SP 2431. Reviewed by A. Brady Self, Assistant Extension Professor, Forestry.

Contact Your County Office

Your Extension Experts

Extension Associate III
Associate Professor
Beef Cattle Health Animal Disaster Response Epidemiology Preventive Medicine

Related Publications

Publication Number: P2421
Publication Number: P3145
Publication Number: P2811
Publication Number: P3143

Pages