I just learned of this incident from the Florida Paddling Trails Association Newsletter. For those not familiar with Florida history, The Senator was the world’s oldest pond cypress tree, and the fifth oldest tree in the world at 3,500 years of age. It was the largest tree of any species east of the Mississippi. Even during the peak of cypress logging around the turn of the 20th Century, this tree, which at 165-feet stood tall above all others, was left by the loggers in deference to its obvious age and also due to it having a hollow in the middle of the trunk. Located at Longwood, FL, it was for ages a landmark in Central Florida for Indians and settlers alike.
The name was relatively new to the tree. It was named The Senator in 1927 in honor of Senator Moses Overstreet, who had donated the lands in Seminole County to the state for the creation of a park to preserve the tree. The park was dedicated in 1929 by former President Calvin Coolidge.
On February 28th, police reported they had arrested 26-year-old Sara Barnes for the January 16 fire. She reported she frequently went to the park to do drugs, and had lit a fire in the base of the tree for light, so she an another person could see what they were doing while smoking meth. The fire went up the tree, then burned in the tree top, burning from the inside-out like a chimney. By the time the fire service reached the area, the fire had damaged the tree to the point that it collapsed. Barnes took pictures of the burning tree with her cell phone, posting them on line and bragging that she couldn’t believe she had burned down a tree that was older than Jesus.