Redwoods safe as crews battle Washburn fire in Yosemite

“Increased fire activity” was expected on Tuesday as crews continued to battle the 3,221-acre Washburn Wildfire in Yosemite National Park, but officials grew increasingly confident that the Mariposa Grove of elders redwoods would survive the fire.

“While there is a lot of smoke with this, it seems to be progressing slowly and it seems to be doing some predictable things,” US Forest Service district ranger Jennifer Christie said at a community meeting late Monday night.

Nearly 700 firefighters were battling the blaze from the air and the ground, including setting off blowbacks, laying down handlines and using bulldozers to create barriers, officials said. The fire was 22% contained Tuesday morning.

For days, all eyes were on two high-priority areas threatened by the creeping flames: the community of Wawona, which remains under mandatory evacuation orders, and Mariposa Grove, home to more than 500 mature redwood trees, including the 3,000 year old one. Giant grizzly bear.

There remains cause for concern, as in recent years more and more ancient trees have been decimated by hot and fast fires fueled by climate change. Last year’s KNP and Windy Complex fires in California killed an estimated 3% to 5% of the world’s redwoods, and firefighters from the Washburn Fire set up sprinkler systems to help protect the Grizzly Giant and other trees at risk.

But redwoods also evolved with wildfires and actually depend on extreme heat to help release their seeds. Crystal Kolden, a UC Merced fire specialist who followed the blaze, said she was “not worried” about the trees in Mariposa Grove.

“They’ve been doing prescribed burns in this grove for over 50 years, and it’s still early in the season,” Kolden said via email. “This fire should actually be quite beneficial for them, and it’s much better for them to burn in July – which is normally when most lightning ignitions occur in Yosemite, so that’s the natural time for the fire – rather than September.”

Indeed, many fire experts in recent years have touted the virtues of the “good fire,” which can help remove century-old dead vegetation that has accumulated in state forests due to past suppression policies. fires. Forest Service spokesman Stanley Bercovitz said Yosemite has a good track record of letting fires do their natural work on the landscape, as well as a history of prescribed burns and chewing with heavy machinery.

“Mariposa Grove’s nervousness and threat level have plummeted,” Bercovitz said Tuesday morning. “The fire went through the lower part of the grove, but it was low to medium intensity and the kind of fire you like.”

Although it’s too early to officially declare the grove safe, he said there were early indications most of the trees would survive. A younger tree, around 200 years old, may have been lost, he said, but its fate will not be clear for some time.

But while the Washburn fire has the potential to be good for the grove if current conditions hold, that doesn’t mean crews can relax. The blaze spread about 1,000 acres between Monday and Tuesday morning, and high temperatures are expected to remain in the area through the end of the week.

The fire also gave several clues to its power, including forming a huge pyrocumulus cloud Monday signaling intense heat. Officials said the cloud was visible for miles, and areas from Sacramento to the Bay Area reported smoke impacts from the fire.

What’s more, the fire was so intense that at one point a tree branch was “sent into the air by the powerful updraft produced by the fire,” the Forest Service said, and “when it fell back to earth, narrowly missing two firefighting planes.”

There are also other concerns. While the Forest Service has yet to release the official cause of the fire, Yosemite National Park Superintendent. Cicely Muldoon said it was not of natural origin.

“As you all know there was no lightning that day so it was a man-made fire and is being investigated,” she said. declared during the community meeting on Monday evening. “That’s all I can really say.”

Bercovitz said he confirmed no strikes were recorded on the lightning map when the fire broke out on Thursday, and that there was no wind and no power lines in the area. But he warned that “human beginning” doesn’t necessarily mean arson, and it’s still too early to say anything for sure.

“As soon as you start talking like that, it automatically points to a person, and who knows?” he said.

What was clearer was the immense value of the forest lands the firefighters were working to protect.

“The Mariposa Grove was set aside in 1864 by Abraham Lincoln. It predates both the establishment of Yosemite National Park and the National Park Service itself,” Muldoon said at the meeting. really is the root of the whole national park system – a very important place for us, for the community.”

Los Angeles Times

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