California wildfires threaten famous giant sequoia trees

Sep 16, 2021, 8:11 AM | Updated: 9:42 pm

THREE RIVERS, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters wrapped the base of the world’s largest tree in a fire-resistant blanket as they tried to save a famous grove of gigantic old-growth sequoias from wildfires burning Thursday in California’s rugged Sierra Nevada.

The colossal General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest, some other sequoias, the Giant Forest Museum and other buildings were wrapped as protection against the possibility of intense flames, fire spokeswoman Rebecca Paterson said.

The aluminum wrapping can withstand intensive heat for short periods. Federal officials say they have been using the material for several years throughout the U.S. West to protect sensitive structures from flames. Near Lake Tahoe, some homes that were wrapped in protective material survived a recent wildfire while others nearby were destroyed.

The Colony Fire, one of two burning in Sequoia National Park, was expected to reach the Giant Forest, a grove of 2,000 sequoias, at some point within days. It was unclear Thursday night whether that had happened. The fire didn’t grow significantly as a layer of smoke reduced its spread, fire spokeswoman Katy Hooper said.

It comes after a wildfire killed thousands of sequoias, some as tall as high-rises and thousands of years old, in the region last year.

The General Sherman Tree is the largest in the world by volume, at 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters), according to the National Park Service. It towers 275 feet (84 meters) high and has a circumference of 103 feet (31 meters) at ground level.

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

A 50-year history of using prescribed burns — fires set on purpose to remove other types of trees and vegetation that would otherwise feed wildfires — in the parks’ sequoia groves was expected to help the giant trees survive by lessening the impact if flames reach them.

A “robust fire history of prescribed fire in that area is reason for optimism,” Paterson said. “Hopefully, the Giant Forest will emerge from this 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 grow. But the extraordinary intensity of fires — fueled by climate change — can overwhelm the trees.

That happened last year when the Castle Fire killed what studies estimate were 7,500 to 10,600 large sequoias, according to the National Park Service.

A historic drought and heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

A national interagency fire management team took command of efforts to fight the 11.5-square-mile (30-square-kilometer) Paradise Fire and the 3-square-mile (8-square-kilometer) Colony Fire, which was closest to the grove. Operations to burn away vegetation and other fuel that could feed the flames were done in that area.

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

To the south, a fire on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Giant Sequoia National Monument grew significantly overnight to more than 6 square miles (15 square kilometers), and crews had no containment of it, a Sequoia National Forest statement said.

The Windy Fire, also started by lightning, has burned into part of the Peyrone Sequoia Grove in the national monument, and other groves were threatened.

“Due to inaccessible terrain, a preliminary assessment of the fire’s effects on giant sequoia trees within the grove will be difficult and may take days to complete,” the statement said.

The fire led the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office to warn the community of Johnsondale and Camp Whitsett, a Boy Scouts camp, to be ready to evacuate if necessary.

The wildfires are among the latest in a long summer of blazes that have scorched nearly 3,550 square miles (9,195 square kilometers) in California, destroying hundreds of homes.

Crews had limited ground access to the Colony Fire and the extreme steepness of the terrain around the Paradise Fire prevented it completely, requiring extensive aerial water and flame-retardant drops on both fires. The two fires were being managed collectively as the KNP Complex.

___

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A bridge along KY-3351 over Troublesome Creek near Ary in Perry County, Ky., remains damaged...
Associated Press

Biden to join governor to survey flood damage in Kentucky

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and the first lady are expected to join Gov. Andy Beshear and his wife, Britainy, as they meet with families and view damage from storms that have created the worst flooding in Kentucky’s history. At least 37 people have died since last month’s deluge, which dropped 8 to 10 […]
22 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House Monday, Aug. 1, 202...
Associated Press

One year after Afghanistan, spy agencies pivot toward China

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a recent closed-door meeting with leaders of the agency’s counterterrorism center, the CIA’s No. 2 official made clear that fighting al-Qaida and other extremist groups would remain a priority — but that the agency’s money and resources would be increasingly shifted to focusing on China. The CIA drone attack that killed […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Wisconsin Lt. Gov. and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes speaks at a rally at ...
Associated Press

Dems look ahead to Barnes in fall race against Ron Johnson

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes grew up in Milwaukee with a mom who was a public school teacher and a father who worked in a factory — both union members, an important credential in a state where the labor movement is still a force. At 35, Barnes is nearly half the age […]
22 hours ago
Currency traders watch monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquart...
Associated Press

Asian stocks mixed after US job gain paves way for rate hike

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stocks were mixed on Monday after strong U.S. jobs data cleared the way for more interest rate hikes and China reported its exports rose by double digits. Shanghai and Tokyo advanced while Hong Kong and Seoul retreated. Oil prices edged higher. Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 lost 0.2% on Friday after […]
22 hours ago
A rescue worker puts out the fire at the house destroyed by a Russian attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, ...
Associated Press

Russian forces start new assault on two Ukrainian cities

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces began an assault Saturday on two key cities in the eastern Donetsk region and kept up rocket and shelling attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including one close to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s military and local officials said. Both cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka have been considered key […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Today in History: August 8, Nixon announces his resignation

Today in History Today is Monday, Aug. 8, the 220th day of 2022. There are 145 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Aug. 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon, facing damaging new revelations in the Watergate scandal, announced he would resign the following day. On this date: In 1814, during the War […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
California wildfires threaten famous giant sequoia trees