“The Senator,” a 118-foot, 3,500-year-old bald cypress tree located in Big Tree Park in Longwood, Fla., burned to the ground in a matter of hours Monday morning.
Though the state’s Department of Forestry once suspected arson, the fire is now being treated as an accident.
“The thought now is that the fire was due to a lighting strike about two weeks ago,” said Steve Wright, a spokesman for the Seminole County Fire Rescue. “We think it was smoldering inside the tree and we only saw the blaze today, when it reached the top.”
The tree burned from the inside out in a sort of chimney effect. The Senator is hollow and it is thought that the fire burned its way through the middle.
“No one knew until it came up at the top,” Wright said. “It’s hard to reach the inside of a 118-foot tree. At one point, it began to collapse on top of us and we had to pull back and try again.”
The Senator is a historic landmark and believed to be one of the oldest in trees in the world.
The tree was donated to Seminole County by Sen. M.O. Overstreet in 1927 and was dedicated by Calvin Coolidge as a national historic landmark two years later.
Beyond the history of the tree, The Senator was a part of the culture of the area.
“I heard it on the radio this morning and I cried,” said Donna Williams, a longtime Seminole resident. “Anyone who has lived in this area, not to mention those who were born here, it’s part of your life because it’s so gorgeous and awesome. I got a chill.”