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article imageFlorida woman charged with burning down 3,500-year-old tree

By Arthur Weinreb     Mar 1, 2012 in Crime
Winter Haven - One of two women arrested on drug charges is also alleged to have burned down The Senator Tree, one of the oldest bald cypress trees in the world.
On Tuesday, the Seminole County Sheriff's Office announced the arrests of the two women. Sara Barnes, 26, faces charges of production of methamphetamine with the intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia. Jodi Hill, 41, was charged with simple possession of meth as well as possession of drug paraphernalia.
The drug charges were laid after a search warrant was executed by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at the residence of Barnes. The warrant was issued after Barnes had been arrested earlier in the day for starting the fire that destroyed the landmark tree. She also faces a charge of intentional burning of land, a third degree felony.
The Senator Tree was located in Big Tree Park in Longwood, FL and it burned down in the early morning hours of Jan. 16. There were witnesses to the arson and calls to a tip line led authorities to Barnes. The witnesses claimed that the woman filmed the tree burning with her cellphone and the search warrant was issued to seize phones and computers; anything that might contain pictures of the fire.
As reported by WKMG TV, Barnes admitted to authorities that she was responsible for the fire. She said she and a friend were in the hollow tree using drugs and she lit a fire so they could see what they were doing. This is consistent with how state officials described the fire; flames shot up the hollow centre and the tree burned from the inside out.
The tree was believed to be the fifth oldest tree in the world and the largest bald cypress tree. As reported by the New York Times, it was 118 feet tall with a diameter of approximately 18 feet. It was named after Senator M. O. Overstreet who donated the land the tree was on to Seminole County in 1927. However some people like to say it was named "Senator" because it was old, craggy, and a little shady. Two years later, President Calvin Coolidge visited the tree and left a bronze plaque at its base.
Prior to the opening of Disney World, located just south of Longwood, The Senator Tree was the area's major tourist attraction.
As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Barnes posted bail yesterday in the amount of $5,950 and was released from custody.
The Senator Tree
The Senator Tree
Anthony Scotti
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