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Florida woman charged with setting fire to 3,500-year-old cypress tree

Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

A firefighter sprays water on the smoldering base of what remained of a 3,500-year-old cypress at Big Tree Park in Longwood, Fla., on Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. The 118-foot-tall bald cypress tree named "The Senator" collapsed after it caught fire.

A central Florida woman has been charged with setting a fire that burned one of the world's oldest cypress trees, local media reported.

Investigators said that two witnesses identified 26-year-old Sara Barnes as the person who caused the 118-foot-tall bald cypress tree named "The Senator" to burn and collapse Jan. 16. It was a tourist attraction in central Florida long before Disney World was built.

The Seminole County parks department said the ring samples showed the tree was roughly 3,500 years old.

Authorities said the tree burned quickly after twigs and branches were piled at the base as if someone was starting a campfire.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Barnes also took photos of the fire with her cellphone.

The Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement searched Barnes' Winter Park home on Tuesday and confiscated her cellphone and laptop.

Authorities also reported finding methamphetamine, scales and drug paraphernalia. Barnes reportedly told investigators she set the fire while trying to use illegal drugs.

According to the Sentinel, another person apparently was with Barnes when the tree was set on fire, though that person has not been publicly identified or charged.

Jail records didn't say if Barnes had an attorney.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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