Sunday, October 17, 2021

California Wildfires Threaten Famous Giant Sequoias

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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 giant redwoods from the wildfires that burned Thursday in California’s rugged Sierra Nevada.

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

Aluminum 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. Homes near Lake Tahoe that were wrapped in protective material survived, while others nearby were destroyed.

The Colony Fire, one of two on fire in Sequoia National Park, was expected to hit the Giant Forest, a grove of 2,000 redwoods, sometime on Thursday. It comes after a wildfires 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 largest in the world by volume, at 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters), 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 morning briefing for firefighters.

A 50-year history of using prescribed burning – arson set on purpose to remove other types of trees and vegetation that would otherwise fuel wildfires – in park redwood groves was expected to help giant trees survive. by lessening the impact if the flames reach 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 historic drought and heat waves linked to climate change have made wildfires more difficult to fight in the western United States. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the climate more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

A national interagency fire management team took command of efforts to combat the 11.5-square-mile (30-square-kilometer) Paradise Fire and the 3-square-mile (8-square-kilometer) Colony Fire, which was closer to the grove. . In that area, operations were planned to burn vegetation and other fuels that could fuel the flames.

The fires forced an evacuation of the park this week, and parts of the town of Three Rivers outside the main entrance remained evacuated Thursday. An excavator 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 grew significantly overnight to more than 6 square miles (15 square kilometers), and crews had no containment, a statement from the National Forest said. Sequoia.

The Windy Fire, also started by lightning, has burned 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 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 Johnsondale community and Camp Whitsett, 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 9,195 square kilometers (3,550 square miles) in California, destroying hundreds of homes.

Crews had limited ground access to the Colony Fire and the extreme slope of the terrain around the Paradise Fire prevented this entirely, requiring a large amount of aerial water and flame retardant droplets on both fires. The two fires were collectively managed as the KNP complex.

___

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

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