Ancient Cypress Tree Destroyed; Investigation Goes On

By Jo-Ann Kaiser | Posted: 01/23/2012 3:56PM


Photo and video below of the Senator Cypress tree conflagration, courtesy of WKMG TV. The pre-dawn fire that destroyed a 3,500-year old cypress tree known as "The Senator" on Jan. 16, 2012 continues to be under investigation.

The cypress tree was a tourist attraction that reached 165 feet in height until a hurricane lopped off the top in 1925.It was believed to be the 14th oldest tree in the world.

Bob Johnson, chief of investigations for the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement, in Tallahassee, said a report is in the works.

"We began our investigation by looking at things we could rule out. We know it wasn't an electrical fire because there are no electrical wires near the site," Johnson says. "It wasn't caused by a campfire because it seems to have burned from within. We ruled out controlled fire as a cause and are investigating whether lightening played a part. It is possible for a lighting strike to smolder and the fire could have been a delayed response."

Johnson said the investigation is being handled by his department's Kissimmee office. "It is also possible we may never know the cause of the fire," he said.

Several theories about the cause of the fire remain just that, theories, said Cliff Frazier, Dept. of Foresty spokesman. There have been conflicting reports about the cause of the fire with arson suspected and then ruled out, but at this point, one week after the fire, Frazier says investigators are still looking for a cause.

Bryan Nipe, division manager with Greenways and Natural Lands Division, Seminole Co., FL, calls the loss devastating. "To witness the fall of the tree was the saddest, most depressing single event in my professional career," said Nipe.

Big Tree Park, home of the tree, is located on land donated by Sen. M.O. Overstreet in 1927. It has attracted visitors from all over the world.

"It was a big draw before Disney and continued to be a popular spot. For many children in the state, the Big Tree was part of their curriculum. This is a tree that survived hurricanes and other calamities. It survived logging, even though the trees were extremely valuable, most likely because the tree was hollow inside," said Nipe.

Nipe's office has been inundated with calls from people who would like to participate in a memorial to The Senator.

Big Tree Park's remaining famous cypress, Lady Liberty is a mere 2,000 years old.


About the Author

Jo-Ann Kaiser

Jo-Ann Kaiser

Jo-Ann Kaiser has been covering the woodworking industry for 31+ years. She is a contributing editor for the Woodworking Network and has been writing the Wood of the Month column since its inception in 1986.

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michael dutka    
oak park, il  |  January, 25, 2012 at 10:36 AM

We had a similar "mysterious" tree fire here i oak park a couple of years ago, where a hollow tree (I believe it was a linden) seemed to spontaneously combust. Although never proved because of lack of evidence, it was thought that a lifetime of composting organic matter, possibly by squirrels nesting, had built up sufficient heat to ignite the dried tinder within the tree, and was fanned by wind coming from a non-prevalent direction into flames. It too, was beyond salvage by the time the fire department arrived.


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