Fires in Florida and Cornwall, N.Y., destroy bits of history

Fires in the eastern United States have destroyed two vastly different bits of irreplaceable history: a legendary cypress tree in Florida and an industrial complex in the New York community of Cornwall

Fires in the eastern United States have destroyed two vastly different bits of irreplaceable history: a legendary cypress tree in Florida and an industrial complex in the New York community of Cornwall.

The causes of both fires are under investigation.

In Florida, "The Senator," a cypress tree in Longwood, was destroyed Monday, and officials reportedly are considering arson as a possible cause.

In Cornwall, a building that once housed a historic mill caught fire Sunday, and Police Officer Edward Manion said there's no way to know how long it would take to find the cause.

"They're still at the scene pumping water," he said in a telephone interview Monday.

No injuries were reported in either blaze.

The losses are likely to be measured more in temporal importance than in dollars -- especially for the Florida cypress tree, the oldest such tree in the world at between 3,400 and 3,500 years. 

The tree, about 125 feet tall, had been a major landmark and tourist draw for years. It's named for Sen. M.O. Overstreet, who donated the tree and surrounding land to Seminole County for a park in 1927. In 1929, former President Coolidge visited The Senator and dedicated the site with a commemorative bronze plaque.

According to fire officials, the tree caught fire at about 5:46 a.m. and collapsed about three hours later. The Orlando Sentinel reported that officials are investigating what they believe is a case of arson.

In Cornwall, a town about 50 miles north of New York City, firefighters on Monday were still battling to contain the blaze in a carpet mill that dated back to the 1800s. The building has had a variety of owners and is now an industrial complex.

The fire began Sunday morning and by that evening the historic building had been destroyed, officials said. Fires were still burning on Monday, and it could take days to extinguish them all, they said.

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: Residents could only watch as an approximately 3,500-year-old cypress tree named "The Senator" burned in Longwood, Fla., on Monday. Credit: Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel / Associated Press

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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