The state Division of Forestry said it wasn't arson, after firefighters earlier said it was. Instead, forestry trotted out speculation that a lightning strike smoldered for a while before catching on. Or that friction caused by the tree swaying caused a spark.
A pile of twigs and branches were at the tree's base as if somebody had started a campfire. It would seem a lightning rod installed in the tree years ago after a previous lightning strike would have kept it from striking twice.
And the friction — or even spontaneous combustion — theory would seem so … out there that it warrants at least a more in-depth investigation.
The Division of Forestry official who conducted the post-mortem on The Senator on Monday spent less than an hour at the scene. He took a few photos but didn't collect any samples or conduct any tests, said a person close to the investigation.
But forestry spokesman Cliff Frazier said, "He's the investigator. That's what he does, he investigates fires. His call was that the tree was in a swampy area and started burning from within the tree."
This is a case that deserves more than a once-over, because this is no ordinary tree.
The Senator, estimated at more than 3,500 years old, started growing before the Chinese finished work on the Great Wall.
In a land where an eight-decade-old courthouse and a four-decade-old theme park pass for old, The Senator provided Central Florida with a rare piece of natural, untouched history.
It stood 118 feet tall, and its diameter measured nearly 18 feet. To put it in terms Central Floridians can understand, just over the length of two Lake Eola swan boats from tail to beak.
It survived hurricanes, lightning storms, freezes and droughts.
Now its charred remains lay near the boardwalk that has long served as the well-known spot to admire The Senator in Big Tree Park.
An arborist rushed to the park Monday morning, hoping he could help save the tree. Years ago he had worked on its so-called "sister tree" — the 2,000-year-old and 89-feet-tall Lady Liberty that stands about 40 feet away.
"This thing was a monster when Jesus walked the Earth," he said of The Senator.
The arborist was so overcome by emotion he began crying and left before I could get his name.
Chris Walker and Jessica Yeatts, who live nearby, hopped on their bikes and took the Seminole Trail up to the park when they heard the news.
Their family spent many afternoons at the park and their young daughter attended birthday parties there with the tree as much of an attraction as the playground.
"It's so disappointing," Yeatts said. "There was always somebody there looking at it."
The Senator was a reminder that there's more to Central Florida than pretend castles and three-for-$10 T-shirt shops. It showed us the strength and endurance of nature, and that we're just a blink of the eye in this state's history.
Until a more convincing explanation comes along, count me as skeptical that The Senator didn't meet its doom at the hands of somebody up to no good. Or perhaps a homeless person who was trying to keep warm and let a campfire surge out of control.
I want to see the report on this investigation. When something this significant is destroyed, it's worth getting to the bottom of it.
In the meantime, though, it's important to reflect on what The Senator gave us.
In Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," the tree's final gift to the boy is its stump, a place to sit and rest in the boy's old age after he took the tree's apples, branches and trunk.
The Senator gave commercial value to vendors who used to sell souvenirs and trinkets there. It gave families something to gawk at on weekends. It gave Floridians a sense of history.
Now it, too, is reduced to an old stump.
We should give back something in return: a complete explanation for The Senator's demise.
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