California’s YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — The largest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park was shut down on Friday, and hundreds of people were told to leave the area, as the latest wildfire in recent years 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.
Nearly 300 firefighters battled the blaze with the aid of two water-dropping helicopters and an air tanker dumping flame retardant while the cause of the fire was being investigated, according to Phillipe.
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 Friday night, the fire had spread to 466 acres (188 hectares), according to the authorities.
The Wawona Campground, where 600 to 700 people were staying in a campground, cabins, and a historic hotel, as well as the nearby community of Wawona, which is surrounded by the park, and the grove were all subject to evacuation orders on Friday.
A violent windstorm toppled 15 giant sequoia trees in the grove a year and a half ago, in addition to countless other trees.
Although there was plenty of fuel for the flames due to the downed trees and the enormous number of pines killed by bark beetles, winds were calm on Friday and the fire did not spread quickly.
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 had burned 7 square miles, increased to 70%. (18 square kilometers).
About 100 people who were enjoying the July 4th holiday along a river were temporarily forced to seek shelter in a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. facility after a fire broke out nearby Jackson on Monday.