Arson back in play as possible cause of 'The Senator' fire

Officials investigate cause of blaze at Longwood park

Published On: Jan 17 2012 01:35:14 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 17 2012 06:34:23 PM EST
LONGWOOD, Fla. -

Officials investigating the fire that toppled "The Senator," a 3,500-year-old cypress tree at Big Tree Park in Longwood, backtracked Tuesday, saying that arson is a possible cause of the blaze.

VIEW PHOTOS: 'The Senator' catches fire | WATCH VIDEO: Top of tree ablaze | Ground view

A fire official said Monday that an arsonist could have been responsible for setting fire to one of the oldest trees in the world, citing a pile of twigs found at the base of the tree and the fact that there had not been any recent lightning strikes in the area.  A short time later, however, a Division of Forestry official determined arson not to be the cause.

Although the official cause of the fire has not been determined, fire officials said Tuesday that the investigation is essentially starting over and that it is possible an arsonist started the blaze. Officials also said Big Tree Park will be closed during the investigation.  It's not known how long the investigation will take.

A passerby spotted on Monday morning spotted flames at the park, which is located off General Hutchinson Parkway between U.S. 17-92 and State Road 427.

The tree, named after Florida Sen. M. O. Overstreet, who in 1927 donated the property on which the landmark sits, was about 120 feet tall and its trunk had a diameter of nearly 18 feet.  The tree was the main attraction in the park, which was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929.

The tree had reached a height of 165 feet before a 1925 hurricane lopped off its top.  Afterward, lightning rods were installed to protect the tree from more damage.

Lady Liberty, a 2,000-year-old 90-foot cypress tree located nearby, was not damaged.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.