Woman Torched Ancient Cypress to Better See Drugs

Sara Barnes charged with setting fire that destroyed 3,500-year-old tree

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 29, 2012 11:41 AM CST

(Newser) – When we last visited the sad tale of "the Senator," arson had been ruled out as the source of the fire that felled the famously ancient cypress tree. Now, a pathetic and unfortunate cause emerges: Sara Barnes, 26, was charged yesterday with setting the fire that burned the 3,500-year-old tree, and the Orlando Sentinel reports that she told police she did so in order to better see the drugs she was about to take.

Police say two witnesses identified Barnes; she apparently told one of them she started the blaze, and reportedly took photos of it using her cellphone. "She did not call the Fire Department or 911 to report the fire," noted an agriculture department rep. A search of Barnes' apartment yesterday turned up her cellphone, along with meth and a glass pipe. The Sentinel notes that the county plans on putting in $30,000 worth of fencing at Big Tree Park to protect the Senator's remains, along with Lady Liberty, a 2,000-year-old cypress.

In this 1920s photo from the Florida State Archives, two men stand together and spread their arms to give an indication of the size of The Senator.
In this 1920s photo from the Florida State Archives, two men stand together and spread their arms to give an indication of the size of "The Senator."   (AP Photo/Florida State Archives via Orlando Sentinel)
Seminole County firefighter Al Caballero sprays water on the smoldering base of one of the world's oldest cypress trees, thought to be 3,500 years old.
Seminole County firefighter Al Caballero sprays water on the smoldering base of one of the world's oldest cypress trees, thought to be 3,500 years old.   (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
The 118-foot-tall bald cypress tree named The Senator collapsed after it caught fire.
The 118-foot-tall bald cypress tree named "The Senator" collapsed after it caught fire.   (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Seminole County firefighter Al Caballero applies water to the smoldering base of one of the world's oldest cypress trees.
Seminole County firefighter Al Caballero applies water to the smoldering base of one of the world's oldest cypress trees.   (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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