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College Student Annais Rittenberg Tragically Killed After Tree Falls at Youth Camp Near Yosemite

One camp counselor was killed and several others were injured after a tree fell at a popular youth camp near Yosemite National Park. At about 8:30 in the morning, a large tree fell onto the campfire circle directly outside the dining hall of Camp Tawonga. Twenty-one year old camp counselor Annais Rittenberg was killed. Ms. Rittenberg was a rising senior at UCSC studying environmental science.

The recent tragic death of Ms. Rittenberg from a fallen tree highlights a danger known to arborists and Park officials but unappreciated by the public. Each year several people are killed or catastrophically injured from falling trees while camping in Parks. Arborists (tree experts) and Park officials are well aware of the hazard of falling trees to campers and routine inspections are supposed to be performed at least once a year at Parks to identify dangerous trees. Sadly, these routine inspections for dangerous trees are often skipped or glossed over by Park officials.

Often it takes years for a decayed or diseased tree to reach the point where it falls over. Trees situated near campsites are referred to as “high target areas” given the potential for a tree to fall in a populated campsite. Your average camper who pays a fee to camp at a park typically has no idea of the risk of a falling tree. Park officials and insurers like to refer to these accidents as “acts of God”. In reality, the vast majority of these tragic cases can be prevented through routine inspections of campsites by trained persons who know the danger signs to look for: trees that are severely leaning to one side, hollowed out trunks, root disease, vertical cracks in tress, etc.

Our office currently represents two catastrophically injured persons who had the misfortune of pitching a tent near a rotten tree that fell and struck them. It is time to raise the public’s awareness of these accidents, and hold the Parks accountable for inspecting and maintaining their campsites in a safe condition. We hope the most recent tragedy involving Ms. Rittenberg will increase the public’s awareness of this danger, and lead Park officials to review their inspection practices.

Find more information about the Camp Tawonga incident here: