• Arson once again suspected in historic tree's collapse


    SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla.,None - Arson is back on the table as a possible reason of one of the world's oldest cypress trees in Central Florida collapsed. Officials have been back and forth about the cause of the fire, saying that lightning may also have caused the collapse.

    The tree was known as "The Senator," and was estimated to be 3,500 years old.

    Now, Seminole County officials are afraid that something could happen to its sister.

    The Senator is under a renewed investigation, officials said.

    "They're not ruling out anything right now," said Cliff Frazier of the Florida Forest Service.

    Frazier said Monday's theory about a lightning strike, which may have happened weeks ago and triggered the eventual fire, was simply speculation.

    Frazier said they will be asking for tips in case the fire was intentionally set.

    Arson has not been named as the cause, but some of the firefighters who tried to save the 118-foot cypress said they still believe it should be ruled as such.

    Firefighters said they found a pile of twigs and brush around the hollowed-out base and suspect somebody put a match to it.     

    "It's a big piece of history for our area and America.  So, I don't think we're going to settle for any type of result that was found within a day," said County Lands manager Bryan Nipe.

    Nipe said he doesn't want to dispute the lightning theory, but he said the tree had plenty of protection.

    "The lightning rod system is brand new.  It was less than a year old," said Nipe.

    The same system is on The Senator's 2,000-year-old sister tree, "Lady Liberty." 

    Now, the county wants to make sure nothing happens to it.

    Officials said they want to make sure nobody gets too close, which is why the six-foot iron fence will be replaced with an eight-foot fence.

    The goals are to save the historic tree that still stands in Big Tree Park, and to find out what caused the other to fall.

    "It's a big loss to everyone, and we want to get to the bottom of it, and we will get to the bottom of it," Frazier said.

    County officials said they'll clean up what's left of The Senator and possibly preserve it in some manner.

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