Sierra Leone authorities are investigating after the ancient "Cotton Tree", the historic symbol of the West African country's capital Freetown, caught fire under mysterious circumstances, government officials said.
Videos circulating on social media showed enormous flames leaping from the hollow centre of the tree - which symbolises freedom from slavery - in Freetown late Thursday night and early Friday morning.
According to legend, slaves who won their freedom fighting on the British side of the American War of Independence prayed under the tree when they arrived in West Africa.
It has remained a landmark. Freetown residents continue to pray beneath the enormous tree, which now towers over a busy roundabout.
They also hold protests there, or pour libations to ancestors.
Firefighters "swiftly intervened to put out the inferno", the internal affairs ministry said.
The cause of fire remains unknown, however. A similar fire occurred in 2018.
A senior internal affairs ministry official said the government had opened an investigation.
Freetown Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr also said in a social post that the city had hired a "tree specialist" to assess the damage.
Reports that our historic Cotton Tree was on fire are true. The fire has been put out by the Fire Force— Freetown City Council (@FCC_Freetown) January 30, 2020
Cause is unknown & assessments will be done tomorrow
The Mayor, the Minister of Internal Affairs and the ONS were at the scene
Photo: Cotton Tree after the fire incident pic.twitter.com/P1OHoxP5BW