Wildfires in northern California are encroaching upon Sequoia National Park - and putting at risk the world’s largest tree, known as General Sherman.
The Colony and Paradise Fires, collectively known as the KNP Complex Fire, started with a lightning strike on 10 September.
The towns of Three Rivers, Silver City, and Cabin Cove, on the edge of the national park have been placed under evacuation orders.
Mark Ruggiero, fire information officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said on Tuesday that while there is no impending threat, “that is a potential”.
By Wednesday morning, the KNP Complex had burned 5,000 acres of land and hundreds of homes, leading to the National Park Service (NPS) to close Sequoia.
The fires were “still growing and have the potential to affect Sequoia National Park infrastructure and resources,” NPS reported.
The Giant Forest is located within Sequoia National Park and boasts more than 2,000 giant sequoia trees, some of which are the tallest and oldest in the world.
General Sherman stands at 275 feet tall and is the largest tree in the world by volume. It is estimated to be around 2,700 to 2,300 years old, and is the crown jewel of the park.
Giant sequoias typically flourish from controlled fires as the flame release seeds from cones, and continue the specie’s growth cycle.
But in recent years, the growing trend of huge, volatile wildfires, driven by the climate crisis, pose grave risk to sequoias. The 2020 Castle Fire killed 7,500 to 10,600 large sequoia trees, according to the NPS.
Along with the fire threat, Mr Ruggiero said the trees were difficult to access.
“The Colony Fire specifically is burning in a really bad spot ... where these trees are like jackstraws and it’s difficult to put fire personnel into some of these areas because of that,” the park officer said.
More than 300 firefighters have been deployed to the complex and air crews are dropping retardant onto the blaze.
Clay Jordan, superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said the firefighters “literally started painting the mountains red with retardant”.
The climate crisis is fuelling a severe drought and higher temperatures in California, spurring more intense and frequent wildfires. The Dixie Fire, which has been burning for more than two months, has become the California’s second-largest wildfire on record.
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