Woman pleads not guilty in 'The Senator' fire

Sara Barnes, 26, charged with unlawfully setting fire to land


SEMINOLE CO., Fla. – A Winter Park woman charged with setting fire to one of the world's oldest trees pleaded not guilty in court on Tuesday.

26-year-old Sara Barnes appeared in a Seminole County courtroom. Standing alongside her lawyer, Barnes entered a not guilty plea to charges of unlawfully setting fire to land.

Barnes is accused of setting the 3,500-year old Cyprus tree on fire in January at Big Tree Park in Longwood. The tree, known as "The Senator", once stood 120-feet tall, and was believed to be the tallest and oldest tree of its kind in the United States and the 5th oldest tree in the world.

Barnes was arrested in February and was also charged with drug possession.

Investigators said Barnes climbed into the tree's hollow trunk and lit a fire to see better.

Photos: 'The Senator' burns

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.