Toomer’s oak still standing after fire; community reacts - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Toomer’s oak still standing after fire; community reacts

(Source: WTVM) (Source: WTVM)

AUBURN, AL (WTVM) - From sunrise to high noon, dozens of community members stopped by Toomer's Corner to see how their beloved live oak stood after the fire.

Hours after the live oak was set on fire early Sunday morning, Auburn law enforcement officials have the person believed to be responsible is in custody. 

Police have identified 29-year-old Joshen Wiest of Auburn as the suspect. Wiest has been charged with desecration of a venerable object, as well as public intoxication. Officials say Wiest is not a student at Auburn University.

First responders got the call to stop the fire at about 12:15 a.m. on Sunday. 

The fire was contained, but the festive mood after the football game disappeared. The thought of losing another oak, as Auburn did in 2011, is too painful for some like resident and fan Al English. 

"It's thoughtless, harmful," English said.  "Why do it?  Let's have a good time and celebrate, but this is destructive. There's no sense in doing this." 

Tim Allaway, an Auburn University graduate, drove down from Atlanta to watch Saturday night's match-up against the Louisiana State University Tigers. Allaway said he couldn't help but recall the sadness he felt when the oak trees were poisoned by a self-professed University of Alabama fan in 2011. 

"This is an institution, and one would like to think it's pretty harmless," Allaway said. "It's just kind of a sad state, the world we live in."

Video from a city webcam placed over Toomer's Corner showed the suspect, Weist, at the spot where the fire started, trying to leave the scene unnoticed. 

Not long after walking away from the tree, a woman confronted Wiest, letting the crowd know he was the one causing trouble.

The biggest concern now, especially for Dr. Gary Keever, a professor at Auburn's Horticulture Department, is whether or not that one tree will survive the damage

[SLIDESHOW: Daybreak shows the fire damage at Toomer's Oak]

"They are an extremely tolerant tree to the coastal plains, salty conditions, but they have very poor tolerance to fire," Keever said.

Keever said the fire may have burned away part of the tree's canopy, which would make it look "aesthetically dead." 

"It may still be alive, but it's not a tree that should be at this corner and be part of the celebration," Keever said. 

Investigators with Auburn Police are waiting to run a diagnostic test on the Toomer oak to determine the extent of the damage. Wiest is being held on a $1,000 bond for burning the tree and the previous public intoxication charge. He remains detained the Lee County Jail. 

POLL: Following the fire set at Toomer's Oaks in Auburn, do you think the tradition of rolling the oaks after an Auburn Tigers home victory should continue? Click here to take the poll. 

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  • Following the fire set at Toomer's Oaks in Auburn, do you think the tradition of rolling the oaks after an Auburn Tigers home victory should continue?

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