A 3,500-year-old bald cypress tree known as "The Senator" burned to the ground in Big Tree Park in Longwood, Fla., earlier this week, bringing forth mournful comments from the people who lived near it and from around the globe.
"I heard it on the radio this morning and I cried," local resident Donna Williams told ABC News.
The 118-foot tree, which was designated a national historic landmark by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929, had likely been smoldering deep inside its trunk for two weeks after a lightning strike, according to investigators.
"No one knew until it came up at the top," Seminole County Fire Rescue spokesperson Steve Wright told ABC.
By the time the fire was visible, it was too late. The tree burned to the ground in a matter of hours.
The Senator was believed to be one of the 10 oldest trees in the world and probably the oldest in the United States. It measured 17.5 feet in diameter and 425 inches in circumference, according to the Tampa Bay Times. It got its name from Florida state Sen. Moses Overstreet, who donated the acreage that formed Big Tree Park to Seminole County. The tree and the park received hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.
"It's a big loss for everyone," said Cliff Frazier, spokesman for the state's Department of Forestry. "It can't be replaced."
According to the Times, visitors have brought flowers and "Rest In Peace" signs to the park this week in memory of the tree.
MNN readers from around the world — some of whom had visited the tree in the past — posted dozens of comments about the loss of The Senator on MNN's Facebook page.
"I am glad we had a chance to see it when we were in Florida a couple of years ago," wrote Bambi Perry Freeman. "I am so sad to learn of this," wrote Cindy Steinberg. "The end of any life is always sad, but the Earth decided it was time to take back, and so now new life and come forth," wrote Daniel Singleton.
Reader Linda Riddle put the history of the tree in perspective: "Growing up in the '50s, we always just called it 'The Big Tree.' I never even knew it was 'the Senator.' Last I saw it, 20 years ago, it was hollow and dark and sad. It seems a fitting end to have been burned by lightening rather than any man-made demise."
While firefighters were unable to save The Senator, they did prevent the blaze from spreading to another ancient nearby cypress, Lady Liberty, which is believed to be about 2,000 years old.
ABC aired this footage of the fire on Monday: