Firefighters wrapped the base of the world’s largest tree in a fire-resistant blanket as they tried to save a grove of gigantic redwoods from wildfires burning in California’s rugged Sierra Nevada.
The colossal “General Sherman” tree in Sequoia National Park, the Giant Forest Museum and other buildings were shrouded for protection against the possibility of intense flames, fire spokeswoman Rebecca Paterson said.
A wildfire last year killed thousands of redwoods, some as tall as skyscrapers and thousands of years old. Now, firefighters are using foil wrap and prescribed burns – fires that are started on purpose to remove other types of trees and vegetation that would otherwise fuel oncoming wildfires – to help protect redwoods.
The wrap can withstand intense heat for short periods. Federal officials say they have been using the material for several years throughout the western United States to protect sensitive structures from flames.
A historic drought and heat waves linked to climate change have made wildfires more difficult to fight in the western United States, where firefighters have been on high alert for 65 days, a new record. The region has become much warmer and drier in the last 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
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 redwoods, in a few days. The fire did not grow significantly Thursday as a layer of smoke slowed its spread in the morning, fire spokeswoman Katy Hooper said.
The General Sherman tree is the largest in the world by volume, at 1,487 cubic meters (52,508 cubic feet), according to the National Park Service. It stands 84 meters (275 feet) tall and has a circumference of 31 meters (103 feet) at ground level.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Superintendent Clay Jordan emphasized the importance of protecting huge trees from high intensity fires during a briefing for firefighters.
A 50-year history of using prescribed burning in park redwood groves was expected to help the giant trees survive by lessening the impact if flames reached them.
A “strong fire history of prescribed fires in that area is cause for optimism,” Paterson said. “Hopefully the giant forest will come out of this unscathed.”
Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating gaps that allow young sequoias to grow. But the extraordinary intensity of the fires, fueled by climate change, can overwhelm trees.
That happened last year when the Castle Fire killed what studies estimate to be 7,500 to 10,600 large redwoods, according to the National Park Service.
A national interagency fire management team took command of efforts to combat the 30-square-kilometer (11.5-square-mile) Paradise Fire and the eight-square-kilometer (three-square-mile) Colony Fire, which was closer to the grove. . In that area, operations were carried out to burn vegetation and other fuels that could fuel the flames.
We hit a #wildfire milestone today. It’s day 63 for @NIFC_Fire be at Readiness Level (PL) 5 in 2021, breaking the 62-day record set in 2002 (records start in 1990). 1/4
If you are not familiar with the PL index, a great explainer here: https://t.co/BubsniQRox
– Dr. Crystal A. Kolden 🔥 (@pyrogeog) September 15, 2021
The fires forced an evacuation of the park this week, and parts of the town of Three Rivers outside the main entrance remained evacuated.
To the south, a fire at the Tule River Indian Reservation and the Giant Sequoia National Monument grew significantly overnight to more than 15 square kilometers (six square miles), and crews were without containment, a statement said. of the Sequoia National Forest.
The Windy Fire, also started by lightning, has burned part of the Peyronie Sequoia Grove in the national monument, and other groves were threatened.
“Due to the inaccessible terrain, a preliminary assessment of the fire’s effects on the giant sequoia trees within the grove will be difficult and may take days to complete,” the statement said.
The fire prompted the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office to warn the communities of Ponderosa, Quaking Aspen, Johnsondale and Camp Whitsett, and a Boy Scout camp to be ready to evacuate if necessary.
The wildfires are among the latest in a long summer of fires that have burned nearly 3,550 square miles (9,195 square kilometers) in California, destroying hundreds of homes.