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Holly tree suffers damage from fire
A fire of unknown origin caused damage to one side of the holly tree at the intersection of Green and Academy streets. - photo by Tom Reed

Gainesville officials are uncertain about the fate of the holly tree in downtown Gainesville following a fire that left a section of the tree singed and brown.

The large tree, located at the fork of Academy and Green streets, is often decorated with bows or lights to celebrate holidays throughout the year.

Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada said the tree caught fire around midnight June 20, but the cause of the fire is unknown.

“We don’t believe it was intentional,” Canada said.

There are some electrical components around the tree, though Canada said officials have determined those did not start the fire.

“It’s kind of a mystery,” he said.

Hall County Extension Agent Billy Skaggs said it could be difficult for the tree to recover from the damage.

“Judging the mature size of that plant combined with the stress it’s under just being in an urban area like that it’s hard to say how many more years a tree like that would have even in the best of conditions,” Skaggs said.

Skaggs said trees planted in cities face a number of challenges.

“Anytime you have a tree in an urban setting like that, the roots don’t have access to water and oxygen as much as it would if it were in a natural or planted open area,” Skaggs said. “The other thing a tree in an urban setting has to deal with is fumes, exhaust from automobiles.”

The damage spans the height of the tree, though it is only in a thin section. Skaggs said it is uncertain how long it could take the tree to regrow in that area.

“It’s going to take quite a while for that tree to recover because it was damaged well into the canopy of the tree and that sort of damage is not a real quick recovery,” Skaggs said. “My guess is we’re going to be looking at at least next spring before we would see substantial regrowth to the point where we would recover that damaged area.”

Skaggs said pruning the dead foliage could help protect it from future problems.

“All that injured or dead tissue on that tree provides an easy access point for disease and insect organisms to get in there and cause more problems,” he said.

The city of Gainesville is in charge of maintaining the tree, and Gainesville Public Works Director David Dockery said it is trimmed throughout the year. City workers also help decorate it around the holidays.

Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett said the city will hire an arborist to assess the damage.

“We hope to have him out there to see what our next step should be,” Padgett said. “We should have something by the end of the week.”

Doug Langman, immediate past president of the Gainesville Rotary Club, said in the past the tree has been maintained by the Rotary Club. It is also where the club begins its “Night of Lights” event each year in December.

“There’s a lot of historical sentiment,” Langman said. “We’re very attached and we’re very concerned.”