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Stockbridge landmark burning with no way to put out the flames

A towering cottonwood tree in Lakeside Cemetery in Stockbridge, a local landmark, is charred by a fire smoldering inside the tree after it was struck by lightning (WBAY photo)
A towering cottonwood tree in Lakeside Cemetery in Stockbridge, a local landmark, is charred by a fire smoldering inside the tree after it was struck by lightning (WBAY photo)(WBAY)
Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 4:28 PM CDT
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Could the end be near for a natural treasure, most likely hundreds of years old, in the Town of Stockbridge in Calumet County? That's the question being asked following Tuesday night's storms when that landmark was damaged.

The towering cottonwood tree in Lakeside Cemetery in Stockbridge is a local landmark.

"A lot of people come down here. A lot of people know of the big tree at the cemetery," says Stockbridge Fire Chief Mike Funk.

And now they're coming to see what happened to the tree during Tuesday night's storms.

According to Chief Funk, "A local resident had stopped at the fire station and informed us that that tree down at the Lakeside Cemetery was on fire."

The branches and trunk tell the story of the lightning bolt that made its way through the tree Tuesday night, causing it to burn.

"They did their best to try and put the fire out," says Chief Funk, adding, "Unfortunately, because of the lightning strike, the fire had started burning up already into the tree."

Fire made the tree glow as it burned on the inside of the trunk and up its branches.

The fire chief says the cottonwood is very hollow, more than he could have imagined, and despite putting a thousand gallons of water on it and in it, the flames couldn't all be put out.

Funk says, "It had gotten into places that we just couldn't get at. We had made a decision that it didn't pay to start cutting the tree apart to try and put the fire out, so we let nature take its course."

And nearly two days later, the tree is still smoldering on the inside. The town is asking people to stay away because there's no way to tell what kind of damage has been done on the inside when parts of the tree look completely healthy on the outside.

"We just want to make sure people stay back. We don't mind looking at it from a distance we just don't want anybody close in case something bad should happen," cautions Funk.

According to the fire chief, a resident told him the cottonwood is the seventh largest tree in the state, with its base nearly 30 feet around. Not only is it massive, but it's also very old something the town would hate to lose.

Funk adds, "You never want to admit that you can't put something out. We tried, but with life safety we just wanted to make sure that we were doing the right thing."

The fire department will continue to monitor the tree and let the town decide if the tree can stay or will it have to go.

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