Satellite images reveal how narrowly world’s largest tree avoided California wildfire

Sequoia National Park is northern California is home to 2,000 ancient trees including the world’s largest, General Sherman

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Monday 20 September 2021 16:17
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California firefighters scramble to protect Sequoia groves

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The world’s largest living thing has so far survived a raging wildfire in California as new satellite images revealed the proximity of flames to a forest of ancient trees.

The image was captured this past weekend by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellites which monitor wildfire outbreaks around the world.

The satellites showed the KNP Complex fire moving towards the site of General Sherman, a giant sequoia which is more than 2,500 years old and the largest single stem tree in the world. At 275ft-tall, General Sherman is just 20ft shy of the Statue of Liberty.

The KNP Complex has grown in the past week in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, home to around 2,000 giant Sequioas. More than 20,000 acres have burned and the fire is 0 per cent contained.

Last week, park employees wrapped the base of General Sherman and other trees in aluminum foil blankets and removed surrounding vegetation in an attempt to save them if flames swept through the area.

The ground around the trees is fitted with sprinklers and fire officials reported that they have been on continually to keep the area wet.

Lower portions of the giant Sequoia trees were wrapped in fire protective foil last week as the threat of wildfire intensified

The KNP Complex was ignited by lightning on 9 September and was named after the merging of the Paradise and Colony fires.

The growth of the fire had slowed this weekend, the National Park Service (NPS) said. While flames reached a small section of the Giant Forest of Sequoias, General Sherman remained safe.

The southern end of the fire remains more aggressive, NPS reported, and fire crews are working to protect cabin communities in the area. A red flag warning was in place through Sunday due to possible increases in fire activity and residents remained under evacuation warning.

Sequoia National Park is closed to the public but Kings Canyon National Park remains open. However NPS warned of hazardous air quality.

This wildfire season in California is the second worst in modern history following last year’s unprecedented blazes which saw 9,600 fires destroy more than 4 million acres of land.

More than 7,000 wildfires have erupted in California this year, destroying nearly 1.9m acres. The fires are being exacerbated by higher temperatures and persistent drought conditions linked to the climate crisis.

The US has had a record 68 days at “National Preparedness Level 5” in 2021, the National Interagency Fire Center reports. This is the highest level of wildland fire activity with the potential to exhaust national firefighting resources. At least 80 percent of the country’s personnel are on the ground tackling blazes.

More than 3.2 million acres have burned in 2021, largely in western states. Some 73 large fires are currently active in 12 states including California, Idaho and Montana.

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