California wildfires threaten famous giant sequoias – NBC Bay Area

Firefighters wrapped the base of the world’s tallest tree in a fire-resistant blanket as they tried to save a famous grove of gigantic ancient sequoias from the wildfires that burned Thursday in the rugged Sierra Nevada in California.

The colossal General Sherman Tree in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park, other sequoias, the Giant Forest Museum and other buildings have been shrouded as protection against the possibility of intense flames, the spokesperson for fires, Rebecca Paterson.

The aluminum packaging can withstand intense heat for short periods of time. Federal officials say they have used the material for several years throughout the western United States to protect sensitive structures from the flames. Near Lake Tahoe, some homes wrapped in protective material survived a recent wildfire while others nearby were destroyed.

The colony fire, one of two fires in Sequoia National Park, was expected to reach the Giant Forest, a grove of 2,000 sequoias, at some point in a matter of days. It was not clear Thursday night if this had happened. The blaze did not increase significantly as a blanket of smoke reduced its spread, fire spokeswoman Katy Hooper said.

It comes after a wildfire killed thousands of redwoods, some as tall as skyscrapers and thousands of years old, in the region last year.

The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest by volume, at 52,508 cubic feet, according to the National Park Service. It stands at 275 feet tall and has a circumference of 103 feet at ground level.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Superintendent Clay Jordan stressed the importance of protecting massive trees from high-intensity fires during a briefing for firefighters.

A 50-year history of using prescribed burns – fires meant to eliminate other types of trees and vegetation that would otherwise fuel forest fires – in the parks’ redwood groves was to help giant trees survive in reducing the impact if the flames reach them. .

A “strong prescribed burn history in this area is cause for optimism,” Paterson said. “I hope the giant forest will come out unscathed.”

Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to thrive. But the extraordinary intensity of fires – fueled by climate change – can overwhelm trees.

This happened last year when the castle fire killed what studies estimate to be 7,500 to 10,600 large sequoias, according to the National Park Service.

A historic drought and heatwaves linked to climate change have made wildfires more difficult to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather conditions more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.

A national interagency fire management team took command of efforts to combat the 11.5 square mile Paradise Fire and the 3 square mile Colony Fire, which was closest to the grove. Burning operations of vegetation and other fuels likely to fuel the flames were carried out in this area.

The fires forced the park to be evacuated this week, and parts of the town of Three Rivers outside the main entrance remained evacuated on Thursday. A bulldozer cut a line between the fire and the community.

To the south, a fire in the Tule River Indian Reservation and Giant Sequoia National Monument increased dramatically overnight to over 6 square miles, and crews failed to bring it under control, according to a forest statement. National Sequoia.

The Windy Fire, also triggered by lightning, burned in part of the Peyrone Sequoia Grove in the National Monument, and other groves were threatened.

“Due to the inaccessible terrain, a preliminary assessment of the effects of the fire on the giant redwoods in the grove will be difficult and may take days,” the statement said.

The blaze led the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office to warn the community of Johnsondale and Camp Whitsett, a boy scout camp, to be prepared to evacuate if necessary.

The wildfires are among the latest in a long summer of fires that have burned nearly 3,550 square miles in California, destroying hundreds of homes.

The crews had limited land access to the colony fire, and the extreme slope of the terrain around the Heaven Fire completely prevented it, requiring extensive airdrops of water and fire retardants on both fires. The two fires were managed collectively as a KNP complex.

Antczak reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporter Brian Melley contributed from Los Angeles.

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