A Central Florida woman is facing charges in the fire that destroyed the 3,500-year-old bald cypress known as "The Senator," one of the oldest trees in the world.
Sara Barnes, 26, was arrested Tuesday on charges of intentional or reckless burning of lands and possession and intent to distribute methamphetamine and paraphernalia in the Jan. 16 fire, according to an arrest report.
According to Stirling Ivey, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture, authorities had received a tip in January that Barnes might have been responsible for starting the fire that gutted the 125-foot tall tree.
When authorities executed a search warrant Tuesday, Barnes admitted to starting the blaze, saying she frequently visited Big Tree Park to do drugs, Ivey said.
According to the report, Barnes, of Winter Park, hopped the fence at the park and at the tree with a friend and entered the hollowed out part of "The Senator."
Barnes told authorities she had started a fire as a light source but it quickly got out of control, Ivey said.
The report said Barnes told authorities she hopped back over the fence and ran to a fast food restaurant, and saw fire engines responding to the park a short time later.
Firefighters responded and ran hoses more than 800 feet to reach the fire, which burned from the inside out. But it was too late, and within a couple hours, the tree was destroyed.
Barnes posted bond Wednesday and was released from the Seminole County Sheriff's Office jail. It was unknown whether she has an attorney.
The tree, estimated to be more than 3,500 years old, was officially named "The Senator" but was known simply as “The Big Tree” to most people in Central Florida. The Big Tree was the largest native tree in the state, according to the Florida Forest Service.