By Cyndi Sellers
The oldest resident of Cameron Parish has died, and many friends are in mourning. The huge live oak on Chenier Perdue, reported to be around 800 years old, burned Monday, the victim of a marsh fire set in vegetative storm debris on the south side of the chenier. The oak tree was a member of the Live Oak Society.
It is said that an oak tree takes 300 years to grow, 300 years to live, and 300 years to die. By that metric, the Chenier Perdue Oak had another 100 years to live. Even in decline, with limbs gone and a hollow trunk, it still produced leaves and acorns each year and shaded its stretch of shell road at the edge of the ancient ridge.
Think about how many hands have touched that rough, gnarled bark and marveled at the immense girth of the tree, and how many children have sat on the shelf-like knob that still remains, surrounded by white ashes. An irreplacable piece of natural history has been lost in an act of wanton destruction. It is hoped that the remaining section of trunk can be salvaged and put on display for future generations to appreciate. It is over six feet wide and represents only about a third of the original girth of the tree.
Normally a grass fire cannot seriously damage an oak tree, but this tree was hollow, as is normal for oak trees in their final phase of existence. Even hollow, it had so much living wood that it was strong enough to withstand the full brunt of Hurricane Laura. The hollow trunk had an opening on the side of the fire, and marsh grass piled against it by the storm. When the fire got into the marsh grass, the hollow trunk acted as a chimney. A strong south wind made the truck act as a blast furnace, with flames shooting out of the top opening and eating away at the interior until only a little of the shell was left. Limbs fell to the ground and onto the road.
The fire’s origin is unknown, but it would be considered illegal if not an approved controlled burn, and any fire that burns out of control and onto another’s land is illegal, said Sheriff Ron Johnson. The fire burned a long stretch of marsh, damaging other trees, and crossed the road in places, doing even more damage. Sheriff Johnson said it is often impossible to know who sets grass fires.
The sheriff’s Department is looking into the origin of the fire, which seems to have started near the oak tree. Ownership of the tree is being determined, and a complaint is expected to be filed, after which a full investigation can begin, according to Sheriff Johnson. The value if the destroyed tree has yet to be determined, but it had great historical significance. Any information about the origin of the fire would be appreciated.