Giant sequoia burns in California wildfire as thousands of firefighters descend to save the ancient trees

The Bench Tree, one of the iconic Trail of 100 Giants, has been badly burned

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Thursday 23 September 2021 22:20 BST

California firefighters scramble to protect Sequoia groves

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A giant sequoia has been significantly damaged by a wildfire in northern California as thousands of firefighters descended into the forest to try to save the ancient trees.

The impacts from the Windy Fire, which has torn through several sequoia groves, is still being assessed. However the Bench Tree has been badly burned. The tree, so called because its base forms a natural seat, is one of the iconic Trail of 100 Giants,

No smoke is visible in the Bench Tree after water-dropping helicopters doused flames in the tree top, according to official interagency report.

The Windy Fire was ignited by lightning and is currently 6 per cent contained. It has spread across 49 square miles and is burning on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in the Giant Sequoia National Monument area of Sequoia National Forest.

A specialist on the impacts of fire on giant sequoias has been drafted in from Yosemite National Park to examine the damage.

Evacuation orders remain in place but no privately-owned structures have been damaged or lost. However a lookout post and a radio repeater in the Sequoia National Forest have been destroyed in the intense blaze despite being wrapped with fire-resistant material.

Firefighters improvise and spray water from their mouths to control a small spot fire while waiting for a hose line during the Windy Fire in the Sequoia National Forest near Johnsondale, California on September 22, 2021

To the north, the KNP Complex has grown to more than 30,000 acres in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, home to around 2,000 giant sequoias.

The complex began as two separate fires earlier this month before merging, forcing closure of both parks.

Crews are working along the Trail of 100 Giants, spraying hot spots around the Giant Sequoias and falling several smaller, burned hazard trees in that area, a report stated.

More than 1,400 firefighters are now tackling the KNP Complex fire in Sequoia National Park, fire information officer Ana Beatriz Cholo told the AP.

While the Giant Forest of Sequoias remains under threat, the smoke was expected to clear by late Wednesday allowing fire-fighting air crews to begin tackling the flames from above.

Controlled burns are used in the grove of 2,000 sequoias to get rid of smaller vegetation and brush that can make fires more intense and spread flames into the treetops.

So far, the world’s largest tree, named General Sherman, remains safe. Last week, park employees wrapped its base and other trees in aluminium foil blankets to try 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.

General Sherman is more than 2,500 years old, and at 275-feet tall, is just 20ft shy of height of the Statue of Liberty.

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

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.

Thousands of 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.

Wildfire activity continues throughout the West, including 63 large fires. More than 3.1 million acres have burned this year in the US.

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