California’s YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — The largest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park was still closed on Saturday, a day after hundreds of people were told to leave because the latest wildfire to threaten the largest trees in the world was burning through a dense forest.
According to Nancy Phillipe, a Yosemite fire information spokesperson, a team was being sent to the Mariposa Grove to wrap some of the enormous trunks in fire-resistant foil to protect them as the blaze burned out of control. More than 500 mature sequoias were in danger, but there were no reports of any named trees, like the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant, suffering severe damage.
Although park cameras showed thick smoke hanging in the air around some of the park’s most famous views, the cause of the fire was still being investigated, and the rest of the park was still open.
According to Phillipe, despite the fire’s overnight growth, no new areas were in danger. Firefighters were employing “every tactic imaginable” to contain it, but it was proving to be difficult, she said. That included the planned use of bulldozers to create fire lines, a strategy that’s uncommonly used in a wilderness setting like Yosemite, as well as air drops of fire retardant, according to Phillipe.
She explained that the bulldozers would be mainly used to build fire lines to protect the Wawona community, which is surrounded by the park and has several hundred residents. Approximately 600 to 700 people were staying in a campground, cabins, and a historic hotel at the Wawona Campground when evacuation orders were issued for both the community and the campground on Friday.
The giant sequoias, which are only found naturally in about 70 groves along the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada range, were once thought to be impervious to fire, but they have grown more and more vulnerable as wildfires have grown more intense and destructive, fuelled by a buildup of undergrowth from a century of fire suppression and drought that has been made worse by climate change.
The estimated 75,000 large sequoias, the largest trees by volume, have been killed by lightning-sparked wildfires over the past two years, accounting for up to a fifth of their total number.
According to Phillipe, there was no obvious natural spark for the fire that started Thursday near the Washburn Trail in the park. Visitors who were strolling through the grove, which reopened in 2018 following a $40 million renovation that took three years, reported seeing smoke.
No one was hurt during the evacuation of the grove, which is located inside the park’s southern entrance.
By Saturday morning, the fire had expanded to a size of roughly 1.1 square miles (2.8 square kilometers).
A violent windstorm toppled 15 giant sequoia trees in the grove a year and a half ago, in addition to countless other trees.
The massive number of pine trees killed by bark beetles and the downed trees provided plenty of fuel for the flames.
Clearing the area around the sequoias with prescribed burns has helped the park preserve them in case flames spread deeper into the grove.
It tends to slow the rate of spread and aid us in gaining some control when the unwanted fires strike those areas, according to Phillipe.
Some evacuation orders were lifted in the Sierra foothills, 80 miles (128 kilometers) northwest of the Yosemite fire, as containment on the Electra Fire, which started near Jackson on Monday, increased to 72 percent. About 100 people who were spending the Fourth of July along a river were temporarily compelled to seek refuge in a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. building.