You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

Historic bur oak tree struck by lightning during Friday morning storms

  • 2 min to read
Members of the Boone County Fire Protection District work to put out a fire

Members of the Boone County Fire Protection District work to put out a fire inside the trunk of the bur oak tree after a lightning strike Friday morning.

Columbia's beloved bur oak tree was struck by lighting and caught fire Friday morning.

Martina Pounds, a captain at Boone County Fire Protection District, said there was active fire when firefighters arrived on the scene. Lightning reportedly struck the north side of the tree, splintering it. Firefighters from the Fire District worked throughout the morning to put out the fire and stabilize the centuries-old tree.

News about the “big tree” circulated on social media after a video was posted on Facebook showing smoke coming from inside the tree trunk.

“They don't know the extent of it yet, how far or how deep it went down,” Pounds said. 

Firefighters had to cut holes into the center of the tree in order to reach the fire in its core — a standard procedure for when trees are struck by lightning, Pounds said.

“It's hard to extinguish the stuff that's inside the tree,” Pounds said. “It just sits there and smolders forever. So they're probably trying to avoid that the whole tree goes and burns and eventually becomes hollow.”

According to the National Park Service, the bur oak tree is estimated to be between 350 and 400 years old. Located on Burr Oak Road, the tree is the largest bur oak tree in Missouri. The “big tree” is widely known by locals, alumni and students in Columbia and Boone County.

Pounds said the Fire District also conducted traffic control throughout the morning due to a large amount of people driving by to check on the tree.

Firefighter Conner Malpiedi climbs up ladder

Firefighter Conner Malpiedi climbs up a ladder to put out a fire inside of the bur oak tree Friday morning. Firefighters responded after the tree was struck by lightning on Friday morning.

Paul Jackson, a local artist belonging to "The Big Bur Oak" Facebook group, arrived at the scene after his brother from Arizona texted him about the images of the smoking tree. Jackson said he had painted the tree at least 100 times.

Jackson took home a 20-pound chunk of wood that had broken off the tree to turn into art, along with some acorns to plant to turn into the next "big tree."

Jackson said he was feeling sad but hopeful about the tree's survival, adding that “#2020 sucks.”

Firefighters from the Boone County Fire District stand

Firefighters from the Boone County Fire District stand under the bur oak, which caught fire after a lightning strike early Friday morning. Firefighters sprayed a mixture of foam and water into the tree to try and cool down the tree's interior. 

Cody Spencer holds a handful of acorns he gathered from under the bur oak tree after a lightning strike this morning.

Cody Spencer holds a handful of acorns he gathered from under the bur oak tree after a lightning strike Friday morning. Spencer called 911 once he saw the tree.

Smoke covers members of the Boone County Fire Protection District and the Missouri State Champion bur oak as they put out a fire inside the trunk after a lightning strike this morning

Smoke covers members of the Boone County Fire Protection District and the Missouri State Champion bur oak as they put out a fire inside the trunk after a lightning strike Friday morning.

A member of the Boone County Fire Protection District flushes water down tree

A member of the Boone County Fire Protection District pauses while flushing water through a smoking hole on the right side of the bur oak tree Friday morning. Lightning struck the tree earlier and made a hole that leads down to the base of the tree.

Cody Spencer and Paul Jackson pick up a piece of the bur oak

Cody Spencer, left, and Paul Jackson, right, pick up a piece of the bur oak tree that was blown into a field after the tree was struck by lightning Friday morning. Spencer, who lives on Route K, called 911. Jackson, a local artist, said his brother in Arizona called him after seeing a post on Facebook. He said he was going to make a piece of art from the fragment.

Foam sprays out of a gash in the big bur oak

Foam sprays out of a gash in the big bur oak as firefighters try and cool off the inside of the tree after it was struck by lightning Friday morning. Cody Spencer, who was the first person to find the tree after it was struck, said, "It was like a bomb had gone off."

Diptych: A firefighter Sawyer reaches, Two Boone County fire fighters wait

LEFT: A firefighter sawyer reaches down to pick up a helmet before taking a chainsaw to the bur oak tree to try and better reach a hotspot inside the tree. According to Battalion Chief Chuck Doss the sawyers said the tree was stable. RIGHT: Two Boone County fire fighters wait as sawyers examine the tree to see if there are any stability issues after it was struck by lightning on Friday morning. Cody Spencer was the first person to call 911 after the tree was struck. "I was in shock, I didn't know whether to cry, you know," said Spencer.

A firefighter from the Boone County Fire District blows foam away

A firefighter from the Boone County Fire District blows foam away from the big bur oak Friday as the crew winds down efforts to contain a hot spot after the tree was struck by lightning and caught fire. Battalion Chief Chuck Doss said there was always a chance it could relight and crews would be back to check on the tree throughout the afternoon.

Two firefighters take up caution tape

Two firefighters take up caution tape after sawyers confirmed the tree was stable and limbs weren't prone to falling off. It's not clear yet how this will affect the health of the tree.

  • Fall 2020 State Government reporter. Studying magazine journalism and statistics. Reach me at katrinatroy@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700.

  • I'm a photojournalism masters student at MU.

  • I'm the Director of Photography working close with staff photographers, videographers, photo editors and designers to help our stories become visually exciting. Follow us on Instagram: comissourian

  • Assistant city editor for the public health and safety beat. I am a second year graduate student studying public policy journalism. You can reach me at mne275@umsystem.edu or on Twitter @MikaylaEasley

Recommended for you