Skip to main content

‘The Senator’ Burns Down: One of the World’s Oldest Trees Destroyed by Fire

  • Author:
  • Updated:

A 118-foot, 3,500-year-old bald cypress tree named "The Senator" burned to the ground yesterday morning. Located in Big Tree Park in Longwood, Florida, the Senator is thought to have been set on fire by a lightning strike two weeks ago.

Although arson was initially suspected, Steve Wright, a spokesman for the Seminole County Fire Rescue, told ABC News, "“The thought now is that the fire was due to a lighting strike about two weeks ago. We think it was smoldering inside the tree and we only saw the blaze today, when it reached the top.”

The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board called for steps to be taken immediately to protect another majestic cypress tree at Big Tree Park, Lady Liberty. Lady Liberty is young compared to the late Senator, a mere 2,000 years old. As the Sentinel put it, protecting Lady Liberty must be done because, "we owe it to future generations."

Firefighters now believe that the Senator burned down due a sort of "chimney effect," in which the fire burned up through the hollow middle of the tree.

Sealaska Heritage Institute created two apps to help students learn the Tlingit language. This image, from the Tlingit Language Games app, shows a game to learn the names of birds.

The fire appears to have raged from the inside-out

“No one knew until it came up at the top,” Wright told ABC News. “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 believed to be one of the oldest trees in the world. It was donated to Seminole County by it's namesake, Senator M.O. Overstreet in 1927, and became a national historic landmark two years later by the stroke of Calvin Coolidge's pen.

As the Sentinel puts it, the Senator has been a part of Florida longer than the state's most recognizable icons, from Walt Disney to Henry Flagler. The Senator has stood in Florida long before Columbus landed, long before Christ was born, and long before the Roman Empire rose and fell. In it's 3,500 year life, the Senator had withstood everything nature could throw its way. The tree used to be even taller, standing at a eye-popping 165 feet before a hurricane in 1925 tore off the top. It's astounding to think after three millennia of withstanding countless natural disasters, a simple lightning storm could fell such a mighty tree.

"It burned like a shuttle's solid rocket booster with flames shooting through its hollow core," the Sentinel wrote. The Associated Press reports that firefighters arrived at around 5:50 a.m. yesterday morning and pulled more than 800 feet of hose through the woods to the fire. Steve Wright said that a 20-foot section of the tree fell to the ground at around 7:45 a.m., and the Senator collapsed a half-hour later.

The San Francisco Chronicle notes that the Senator was considered the largest tree of any species east of the Mississippi River.

For a video of the fire, click here.

For a list of the world's oldest trees (the Senator was ranked 8th oldest in the world on this site), click here.