Charlotte, NC (July 6, 2007)- For untold decades it survived amid eastern Mecklenburg County farm fields and, later, subdivisions. But the state-champion Osage-orange tree, which measured 24 feet around its trunk, couldn’t escape illegal July Fourth fireworks.
The farm family that once owned the tree believes it was 200 years old or more. “I never remember anybody saying it wasn’t here,” said Ed Hodges, whose mother sold the land about five years ago.
Fire officials say a stray pyrotechnic apparently landed in the old tree’s hollow trunk, which had been split open by a lightning strike 40 years ago. Newell volunteer firefighters turned out after 3am Wednesday to douse it, and again at 5:30am when it rekindled. But Osage-orange burns fiercely, and 10,000 gallons of water couldn’t stop the fire.
The N.C. Division of Forest Resources, which made the Osage-orange its March entry in this year’s champion-tree calendar, says the tree was 62 feet tall.
Hodges remembers it as one of only two trees in a 75-acre cow pasture, welcome shade on a hot day of baling hay. As a child, he said, its big limbs made an excellent treehouse.
Charlotte urban forester Laura Brewer remembers neighbors fighting to save the tree when the property was developed. “Unless you’ve got a couple hundred years to wait, you’re not going to see a tree like that again. When I took this picture in August ’03, construction was underway to turn the former field into a subdivision. Precautions were taken during construction to preserve the tree as a centerpiece for the new neighborhood.”
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