COLUMBIA, Mo.- The McBaine Bur Oak tree outside of Columbia, Mo. caught on fire this morning. It is the oldest Bur Oak tree in the state and is estimated to be about 350-400 years old.
Fire crews responded to the scene around 9 a.m. There were thunderstorms in the area at the time and officials believe lightning sparked the fire.
“Upon our arrival, we had a significant amount of smoke coming from the trunk of the tree,” Battalion Chief of Boon Fire Country Fire District Chuck Doss said. “It appeared to be the fire burning inside of the trunk.”
To some, the tree just might look like a normal tree.
“It’s kind of the biggest tree in the area here, so we had the call come out and we had a pretty good idea it was this tree,” Doss said.
Instead, it’s the most historic tree in Missouri and John Sam Williamson owns the land it sits on. His family has owned the 1,400 acres surrounding the tree since 1835.
“We heard it,” Williamson said. “My wife and I were home at our house and there was a tremendous boom like sounded like a bomb or something and we both said lightning had struck something close. And then a friend that works for the fire district texted me and said, ‘your tree is on fire.’ He had heard the call that gone out that somebody was going by and saw smoke coming out of it.”
The tree is about half a mile from the Missouri River and Williamson said water stood nine feet deep on the tree during the 1993 flood.
“It is the champion bur oak tree of Missouri and it is the national co-champion bur oak tree,” Williamson said.
Williamson said the tree has been struck by lightning multiple times over the years.
“There have been some ground rods that Boone Electric Co-Op put in a few years ago and vandals stole the copper wire from them that went to the ground and so they don’t have ground rod protection,” Williamson said.
Doss said firefighters had to saw a hole into the tree to put out the fire with water and foam.
“This tree is a big deal for this county, it’s a historical landmark and we want to try and save t the best we can,” Doss said.
“People come out to look at it, have picnics, there have been some weddings under the tree,” Williams said. “My daughter got engaged here. Everybody knows it.”
Fire crews say the fire was inside the tree, making it even harder to fight because of its location.
Officials believe the tree is still stable and will be monitoring it throughout the day to make sure the fire doesn’t flare back up.
The tree is on the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail. It is about a half-mile from the Missouri River and the men on the Lewis and Clark expedition would have traveled within sight of the tree.
According to the Nation Park Service, it takes four full-grown men to wrap their arms around the entire trunk of the tree.