PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — It was another sunny and hot day in the fourth year of a severe, unrelenting drought when dozens of children who had just spent the day splashing and playing at a “Water Wonders Camp” heard a loud crack and saw a giant pine tree hurtling toward them.
As the children tried to scramble to safety Tuesday afternoon eight were hit and injured. Two were hospitalized in critical condition, Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.
It was unclear what made the 75-foot-tall, 75-year-old pine suddenly topple on a day with only minimal wind. But Derderian said authorities intend to find out.
“We are bringing out an independent arborist to investigate what could have caused this,” she said.
Although California is in the middle of a severe drought that has prompted residents and municipalities alike to drastically cut back on water use, it wasn’t known if that could have played any role.
The towering pine was located in Pasadena’s Brookside Park, just outside the grounds of the Kidspace Children’s Museum, near the Rose Bowl.
The museum’s weeklong Water Wonder Camp was just letting out for the day when the tree came down a few minutes before 5 p.m.
“It was the end of the day, so there were people gathered outside who were leaving and there was a camp group waiting for pickup by their parents when the tree came down,” said Tim Scheidler, the museum’s marketing manager.
Museum staff, firefighters, parents and police quickly converged on the scene.
“I heard a tree crack and then I turned around and I saw little kids running and then I saw the tree fall on top of the little kids, maybe about five or seven of them,” Greg Prodigalidad told KABC-TV.
He said he and some parents rushed over to rescue children trapped under the branches.
The Fire Department dispatched its urban search-and-rescue team to use power tools to cut apart the tree to ensure no one was trapped underneath.
Eight children, ranging from 6 to 8 years old, were injured. Six were treated at the scene for cuts, bumps and bruises, while the other two were hospitalized.
All the children were alert and able to talk, Derderian said.
Hanna Lin of Altadena, who volunteers at the museum, said her daughters, ages 6 and 7, attended the camp. They were crying and shaken up but escaped injury.
“I myself saw two children carried out on stretchers and they were pretty bloody,” she told KABC-TV. “That brought tears to my eyes.”
Lin said she understood some of the children were doing arts and crafts under the tree when it fell.
The museum offers weekly day camps during the summer for children ages 5 to 9.
This week’s Water Wonders Camp will be followed next week by Outer Space Camp, which is to include visits from space experts at the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory.