A woman on Tuesday was charged with setting a fire that burned The Senator, one of the world’s oldest cypress trees — and she told authorities she did it because she was wanted light to see the drugs she was doing, investigators said.
Two witnesses identified Sara Barnes, 26, as the person who set the fire, authorities said.
Barnes took photos of the flames with her cellphone and told one of the witnesses that she started it, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Servicessaid.
“She did not call the Fire Department or 911 to report the fire,” said Sterling Ivey, an agriculture-department spokesman.
The tree, which had twigs and branches piled at the base, burned quickly.
“It’s a great fuel source,” Ivey said. “Unfortunately.”
Investigators searched Barnes’ apartment near Winter Park Tuesday and confiscated her cellphone and laptop computer. Authorities found methamphetamine, a glass pipe and other drug paraphernalia, they said.
The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office arrested Barnes late Tuesday on charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia. Another woman with Barnes at the apartment was arrested on charges of drug and paraphernalia possession.
Her Facebook page, which describes her as a model who attended Winter Park High School, contained several profanity-laced comments late Tuesday. One decried her for “destroying a global treasure,”
The Senator, which stood at Big Tree Park north of Longwood, burned a little after 5:30 a.m. Jan. 16. Known as “The Big Tree,” it was thought to have been more than 3,500 years old. With a height of 118 feet and a diameter of nearly 18 feet, the tree was a tourist attraction long before Walt Disney World.
A tip to Crimeline Jan. 17 led to Barnes’ arrest. She is being held in the Seminole County Jail.
Another person was with Barnes when the interior of the tree was set on fire, Ivey said. That person has not been publicly identified or charged.
Seminole County will spend nearly $30,000 to install fencing at Big Tree Park near the site where The Senator stood, county commissioners decided today. The fence is designed to prevent someone from stealing the remains of the tree or damaging Lady Liberty, another cypress tree that is an estimated 2,000 years old.