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What Happened to “The Senator”?

The Senator was known to be the biggest and oldest bald cypress tree in the whole world. It used to be standing tall at the Big Tree Park in Longwood, Florida, until 2012. At the time, it stood at 125 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 17.5 feet. Unfortunately, the tree is now gone, and here’s what happened.

Sara Barnes accidentally burned down the biggest and oldest bald cypress tree. She lit a fire inside the 3,500-year-old tree to see the meth she was about to smoke. People initially speculated that lightning got to the tree.

The Senator: History

Early on, Seminoles and other Native American groups who lived in Florida used The Senator as a landmark. By the 19th Century, the tree attracted several visitors even though much of the surrounding space was swampy. It was quite tricky to get to the tree back then, and you would need to jump from one log to another. A walkway was then constructed by the Works Progress Administration. In 1925, a hurricane destroyed the topmost part of the tree. The Senator’s height was reduced by almost 50 feet.

As of the year 1993, the Senator was estimated to be 3,500 years old, making it the 5th oldest tree in the world, aside from it being the biggest already. The volume of the tree had been estimated at 4,300 cubic feet then, but according to a more recent survey done by Will Blozan of the Native Tree Society, The Senator was actually well over 5,100 cubic feet. This made the tree the largest bald Cypress in the United States. (Source: Native Tree Society)

The tree was named for Florida State Senator Moses Overstreet. In 1927, he donated the tree and surrounding land to Seminole County for a park. US President Calvin Coolidge visited The Senator and dedicated the site with a commemorative plaque. They also placed iron fencing around the tree. (Source: The Orlando Sentinel)

How Did The Fire Happen and What Happened After?

A fire was reported at the top of The Senator on January 16, 2012. It was burned from the inside out, similar to how a chimney would look. The firefighters got to the site and tried to extinguish the fire, but unfortunately, the tree collapsed. The charred remains of the great cypress tree stands at only 20 to 25 feet.

The Florida Division of Forestry arrested a 26-year-old woman who was suspected of setting The Senator on fire on February 18, 2012. Sara Barnes, the suspect, admitted that she frequently went to the tree when the park was closed. On the night of January 16, 2012, she lit a fire with the debris in the trunk so she could see the meth that she was trying to smoke. The fire got out of control, and she just left. Authorities found pictures of the fire on her laptop and cellular phone. In 2014, Barnes was sentenced to 30 months in prison. (Source: Orlando Sentinel)

Today, some people believe that the tree is still alive since saplings have been seen at the tree’s base. In March 2014, the Big Tree Park was re-opened to the public. A memorial was constructed with a new signage and a new walkway. (Source: Seminole County)

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