ONTD Political

3,500 year old tree in Florida burns down- possibly arson

2:57 pm - 01/25/2012
LONGWOOD, Fla. — Back, way back, before King Tut was born and Alexander the Great roamed his empire, the Senator sprouted in a swamp here in central Florida, one of thousands of its kind.

So on Monday, when word got out that the huge, 3,500-year-old bald cypress had burned and collapsed, people from the area who thought that nothing — not hurricanes, not loggers, not disease — could fell the Senator, sank into disbelief.
In a state known for its sprawl and its zeal for pouring concrete, the Senator stood as a testament to nature and ancient history. It was one of the oldest trees in the country and, at 118 feet, one of the tallest east of the Mississippi.

“There is so little of this old history left,” said Lauren Wyckoff, 28, an environmental scientist and self-described tree hugger, who drove to Big Tree Park from nearby Orlando after work to pay her respects. “It’s not just some tree in your backyard. I mean, it’s 3,500 years old; I just picture everything it saw, everything it has been through.”

“I’m crying,” she said, with a laugh, as her eyes reddened. “When I first came here, I had no idea it would be as amazing as it was. No idea it would be as impactful.”

Investigators for the Division of Forestry are still trying to figure out how the tree burned down early Monday morning. Arson remains a possibility, although it had been initially discounted. Two other possible theories are being considered: the tree was struck by lightning long before Monday (maybe as long as two weeks) and slowly smoldered from the inside, or friction from the wind caused it to combust.

Around town, these last two theories were met with skepticism and a touch of derision. The Senator, which was the only tree in the small park to catch fire, was equipped with a lightning rod. And if the tree had been struck by lightning and smoldered for two weeks, residents said, somebody surely would have seen or smelled it.
As for friction, that notion drew nothing but smirks.

“Of course, maybe a plane flew over and dropped an ember into the hole,” Rick Waters, 49, who runs Mel’s Family Diner in Sanford, a couple of miles from the tree’s resting place, said with a chuckle. “I think some moron started it, or threw a cigarette down. It’s sick to think somebody would destroy that.”

The revered tree wasn’t just old; it was huge. At nearly 18 feet in diameter, it was so large it would take a passel of children holding hands to surround it.

Named for Senator M. O. Overstreet, who donated the land to Seminole County to use as a park in 1927, the Senator has long been a landmark for Floridians.
It survived the logging epidemic, which claimed many of the giant trees that once stood in the county. (The Senator may have been spared because it was hollow, a condition that occurred as the tree aged.) It endured centuries of nasty hurricanes, including one in 1925 that lopped off 40 feet from the top.

Back then, four decades before Disney World rose from swampland, the towering bald cypress was the star attraction in these parts. Visitors arrived on horse and buggy and then jumped from log to log to get a close-up glimpse of the tree.


“You could see it from pretty much everywhere around here” it was so tall, said Joseph R. Abel, the director of the Leisure Services Department in Seminole County.

Now children are brought here on field trips to gawk skyward and imagine what Florida was like back when it was nothing but forest and swamp and Indians were its only inhabitants. Families have always come to snap photos, and nature-lovers arrived on pilgrimages.

What remains now is a trunk, split in half, and a charred shard of wood that shoots 30 feet into the air. The remnants of the tree lie split, on their sides, black and sooty. Outside the gates of the park sits a little tribute of flowers with a sign reading “Rest in Peace Senator.” The park is closed for now as investigators determine what caused the fire.

But the new Florida had long been a too-quick walk away from the Senator. Traffic whizzes by in front of the park and fast-food joints sit right up the street. And though the tree was revered by some, competition from modern life had dwarfed its appeal a good while back.

There are not many awe-inspiring things left, Ms. Wyckoff said. “It was crazy, insane, you can’t imagine how large it was,” she said.

Yet only 40 feet from the Senator looms an understudy: Lady Liberty, now the park’s tallest cypress. It is 89 feet tall and not nearly as imposing, but in this time of transitory celebrity, its moment has arrived.

source has pictures showing just how HUGE The Senator was
mrasaki 25th-Jan-2012 10:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, we lose quite enough to wildfires as it is. :(
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