California Wildfire Threatens a Big Sequoia Grove

In Yosemite National Park, the largest grove of enormous sequoia trees was shut down Friday and hundreds of visitors were warned to leave the area as a wildfire raging through deep woodland became the latest threat to the world’s tallest trees in recent years.

Nancy Phillipe, a Yosemite fire information spokesperson, said a team was being deployed to the Mariposa Grove to wrap some of the giant trunks with fire-resistant foil as the flames blazed out of control.

More than 500 mature sequoias were in danger, but no specific trees, such as the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant, had been severely damaged.

Nearly 300 firemen battled the blaze with two water-dropping helicopters and an air tanker spraying flame retardant, Phillipe said. The rest of the park remained open while nearly 300 firefighters battled the blaze.

Once thought to be impervious to fire, the giant sequoias found only in a small number of groves on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada range in California are now at risk due to the increasing intensity and devastation of wildfires caused by an accumulation of undergrowth caused by decades of fire suppression and the accompanying drought brought on by climate change.

California Wildfire Threatens a Big Sequoia Grove

Lightning-sparked wildfires have killed up to a sixth of the estimated 75,000 giant sequoias, which are the largest trees by volume, over the past two years.

The fire that erupted along the Washburn Trail in the park on Thursday had no evident natural cause, Phillipe said. There were reports of smoke from people going through a $40 million repair project that took three years to complete, which reopened in 2018.

An evacuation of the grove, which is located inside the park’s southern gate, was completed without incident.

By Friday evening, the blaze had expanded to 466 acres (188 hectares), authorities reported.

At least 600 to 700 people were sleeping at Wawona Campground — which is surrounded by the park — as well as a campground and a historic hotel when the evacuation orders were issued on Friday.

More than a year ago, a powerful windstorm raced through the forest, bringing down 15 gigantic sequoias and countless smaller trees.

Many dead pines from bark beetle infestations, in addition to the fallen trees, supplied plenty of fuel for the blaze, but calm winds on Friday kept it from spreading quickly.

Using planned burns, the park has been able to clear brush from surrounding the sequoias, helping to keep the trees safe from further spread of the flames.

There is a tendency for undesirable fires to decrease the rate of spread and assist us to gain some control when they impact such regions, Phillipe explained.

Evacuation orders have been withdrawn in several areas of the Sierra foothills, 80 miles northwest of the Yosemite fire, as containment on the Electra Fire has grown to 70%. (18 square kilometers).

At least 100 people had to be evacuated from a riverbank in Jackson, California, on Monday because of a wildfire that broke out near the city.

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