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Chainsaw-Wielding Samaritan Clears Fallen Trees From Santa Cruz Mountain Roads

SOQUEL (KPIX) -- A mysterious superhero patrols the Santa Cruz Mountains but, instead of fighting crime, he vanquishes fallen trees that often plague the roads during strong storms.

Soquel resident Benjamin Vance is armed with a chainsaw, a truck and a couple of radios to help him chase downed trees. He's often able to clear roads before Caltrans workers can get to the scene.

"It's just being ready and being able to do what I can with what I've got," Vance said.

Benjamin Vance Saws Up a Downed Tree in the Santa Cruz Mountains
Benjamin Vance saws up a downed tree in the Santa Cruz Mountains. (CBS)

It all started about five years ago, when Vance got a new job and had to commute every day from Soquel to the South Bay. He soon started having problems getting over the hill.

"I needed to carry a chainsaw with me during the wintertime when it would get stormy, trees would go down," said Vance.

He said he started clearing the downed trees during his commute because it was often faster to move the tree than take another route.

Now, Vance says, it has become a hobby.

During storms, he will listen to CHP police scanners and talk with ham radio operators to figure out where trees are down. He estimates that, in the past 5 years, he's cleared more than 40 trees -- mostly along Highway 17 and nearby county roads.

Vance says the process is fairly simple. First, he cuts a fallen tree into smaller pieces, then uses his truck to tow the pieces off the road. He said it can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour and a half depending on the size of the tree.

Vance says the art of wielding a chainsaw is something that's always been a part of his family. His father used to compete in lumberjack competitions and, Vance says, his dad taught him how to use a chainsaw when he was just eight years old.

"We'd go up camping in the mountains and that was my cheap entertainment was cutting up downed trees on the side of the road or having fun with it," Vance said.

Vance says he's grateful he learned chainsaw safety from his dad, since he's now operating a 20-pound saw close to traffic. It's something he says he'll continue doing as long as he's able.

"I'm not going to stop going to work anytime soon. I've got a long ways to retirement so the saw is going to stay in the truck," said Vance.

He says often drivers will thank him for clearing the road once they are able to get by and sometimes people will even get out of their cars to offer to help.

Vance estimates he's spent more than $2,000 on safety gear and equipment over the past few years. Community members set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money so Vance can buy new equipment and sharpen his saw blades.


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