Wildfires in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in central California are threatening redwood groves containing some of the world’s oldest and tallest trees.
The Colony, Paradise and Windy fires were started by lightning strikes last week, and park officials are working to contain their spread with water and retardant drops, according to a statement released Monday.
But the fires have been difficult to put out, in part because the Paradise Fire, which spans more than 800 acres, sits on steep, densely wooded terrain and is inaccessible from the ground. In total, the fires are spreading over more than 1,000 acres without any containment.
Over the past year, wildfires have burned millions of acres in California and other western states, destroying hundreds of giant sequoias, sequoias and over a million Joshua trees.
Giant sequoias, which can reach ages of up to 3,400 years and grow to over 300 feet, can withstand – and, to some extent, depend on – periodic fires. Their bark protects them and insulates them from heat. At the same time, the fires clear the soil around the redwoods, leaving it in optimal conditions for the growth of redwood seeds. The fires also burn trees, competing for the sunlight that young sequoias need to thrive.
But the increased severity of fires in recent years, fueled by accelerating global warming, has posed a major threat to the state’s most cherished trees. In last year’s castle fire, between 7,000 and 11,000 large sequoias died in the Sierra Nevada, or about 10 to 14 percent of them, according to the National Park Service. Two-thirds of the area of giant redwood plantations in the Sierra Nevada burned between 2015 and 2020, up from a quarter in the previous century, the parks service said.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks said in the statement that the fires, in addition to threatening the park’s infrastructure and resources, had caused poor air quality for neighboring communities. Sequoia National Park is temporarily closed, while Kings Canyon National Park remains open.
Wildfires have consumed more than two million acres in California this year. The largest, the Dixie fire in northern California, has burned nearly a million acres in the past two months and is 75% contained, according to a New York Times wildfire tracker .
On Monday, President Biden flew over the Caldor Fire, which consumed more than 200,000 acres south of Lake Tahoe and forced thousands from their homes.
“These fires flash our nation’s code red,” said Biden, who took the opportunity to promote two bills pending in Congress that would fund more resilient forest and infrastructure management as well as fight against global warming.