Florida police have arrested a 26-year-old meth user who they believe set a massive brush fire that burned down one of the oldest trees in the United States last month.
Sara Barnes, 26, of Winter Park, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with setting the blaze that destroyed a 3,500-year-old bald cypress, known as “The Senator,” at Big Tree Park in Longwood, north of Orlando, last month, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Barnes told police that she regularly hid out in the park to get high, and on Jan. 16, she lit a fire so she could see better. The fire got out of control and spread to the 125-foot state treasure.
A local reported the fire at around 5:45 a.m., and more than a dozen firefighters responded to the scene, weaving more than 800 feet of hose through nearly a mile of the forest’s dense brush.
The hollow tree burned for more than three hours from inside out, creating a chimney effect, before collapsing.
Just 25 feet of charred bark remained standing.
Police said Barnes told some pals about the fire, and a tipster eventually alerted police.
During a raid on her apartment on Tuesday, cops found methamphetamine, a glass pipe and other drug paraphernalia, as well as pictures of the tree fire on Barnes’ laptop and cellphone.
One source told local station WFTV that Barnes had showed the pics to pals and bragged, “I can’t believe I burned down a tree older than Jesus.”
The Senator was the oldest Pond Bald Cypress in the United States, and the fifth-oldest tree on the planet.
Also known as simply “The Big Tree,” it was named for state lawmaker M.O. Overstreet, who donated the tree and its surrounding land to Seminole County in 1927. The tree was the main attraction in the park, which was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929.
Locals said they were devastated that such an important state landmark had gone up in smoke.
“I heard about that and I was horrified,” Thomas Settle told WESH-TV. “That’s a big part of Florida’s culture. I visited that park when I was a little kid and saw that tree.”