Twenty-six-year-old Sara Barnes was arrested in Seminole County, Fla., after she admitted to setting fire to one of the oldest trees in the world.
The 118-foot, 3,500-year-old bald cypress tree, located in Big Tree Park in Longwood, Fla., mysteriously burned to the ground on Jan. 16, 2012.
The Department of Forestry suspected foul play at first, but the fire was treated as an accident until crime line tips led them Barnes.
“We received a tip through our crime line on Jan. 17,” said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture. “We interviewed some friends of Ms. Barnes who said that she admitted to setting the fire and had pictures and video of the fire when it started.”
According to Ivey, while authorities were serving a search warrant of Barnes’ house, she admitted to starting a fire at the base of the tree as a light source so she could see what she was doing.
She was then charged with intentional burning of land, which is a third-degree felony in the state of Florida.
Barnes was also charged with possession of methamphetamine with the intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.
The tree, nicknamed “The Senator,” is a historic landmark. It 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.
On the day in January when the tree burned down, many locals were devastated.
“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.”