The day before members of the Amber Community Club were selling Hula Hoops as a fundraiser during their annual fall Pancake Breakfast, the Hula Hoop Tree fell victim to vandalism – someone started a fire in the tree causing some damage.
The tree, located near Amber on E23 County Home Road, has become a source of local pride and smiles for Jones County residents. Legend has it that a wind storm in 2015 lodged a Hula Hoop in the tree. From those humble beginnings, area residents have continued to add the brightly-colored hoops to the tree.
Tim Shada, Anamosa Fire Department chief, said firefighters received the call about the tree fire around 4 a.m. Nov. 4. The call came from a passerby.
“The tree was damaged in the middle – smoldering out of the center of the tree,” he said. “Firefighters tried to smother the fire with foam to try to save the tree. We will have to wait and see what happens with the tree in the spring.”
He said the crew spent about a half-hour getting the fire under control. He said three vehicles – a pumper, an equipment truck and a water tanker – were dispatched to the fire “just to be on the safe side.”
“We are assuming it was set – vandalism,” Shada said.
He said firefighters did see area residents driving by the tree as word spread about the incident.
“They didn’t cause (the crew) any problems, but there were a lot of people that were curious,” Shada said.
He said the crew used a technique called “cribbing” in attempt to save the tree.
“Cribbing was used to split the tree apart to get the foam in the middle,” he said. “They used mostly foam.”
He said foam was used because it is gentler on the tree and there would be no issues with water freezing on the tree or the road as it was cold that morning.
Shada added that this type of fire vandalism is rarely seen by his crew.
“From our point of view, yes, it is unusual,” he said. “An officer might see more, but we don’t see much of this.”
Personally, he said the situation is unfortunate.
“It is a fun thing for a small community,” he said.
Bobby Krum, Amber, one of the organizers of the Hula Hoop fundraiser during the pancake breakfast, said the tree has taken on a life of its own in the community. The club sold 30 Hula Hoops the day of the event for $2 each as a fun way to raise money.
“There are well over 100 Hula Hoops in the tree,” he said. “It is people’s hopes, dreams and wishes.”
Krum said he posted photos and news about the tree on the group’s Facebook page. He said that in about a day, the post received more than 68,000 views, 280 shares and 66 comments.