January 17, 2012 in Nation/World

Blaze destroys ancient cypress

Tree in Florida was 3,500-plus years old
Gary Taylor And Amy Pavuk Orlando Sentinel
 
Associated Press photo

A firefighter applies water to the smoldering base of “The Senator” at Big Tree Park in Longwood, Fla., on Monday.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

LONGWOOD, Fla. – The cause of an early morning fire in Seminole County that destroyed one of the world’s oldest cypress trees remained a mystery Monday, but an investigator is convinced it was not the work of an arsonist.

An investigator with the state Division of Forestry has listed the cause of the fire as “undetermined,” but has ruled out arson as the cause, said Cliff Frazier, a spokesman for that agency.

Frazier said he could not speculate on a cause and said the investigation is ongoing.

The tree, which sprouted some 3,400 years before there even was a Seminole County, was officially named “The Senator,” but to most in Central Florida, it was simply called “The Big Tree.”

Firefighters responded to the park about 5:50 a.m. and had to run more than 800 feet of hoses through the woods to reach the fire.

At about 7:45 a.m., a 20-foot section of the top of the tree fell off, Seminole County Fire Rescue spokesman Steve Wright said. By 8:15 a.m., more of the tree had collapsed.

The tree, which was hollow, burned for several hours from the inside out – almost like a chimney, Wright said.

Arson was initially suspected. There was no lightning in the area Monday morning and there is no electrical wiring in the area of the tree.

But the investigator could find nothing to support the arson theory.

The Senator was named after the man who donated what is now Big Tree Park to the county, Moses Oscar Overstreet, a state senator from 1920 to 1925.

The tree was estimated to be 165 feet tall before a hurricane took off the top in 1925, according to research conducted by county historians.

Once the fire was out, about 20 to 25 feet of the tree was still standing, said Mike Martin of the Division of Forestry.

The American Forestry Association bored a small hole in The Senator in 1946 for a core sample that gave the tree an estimated age of 3,500 years.


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