Skip to content
The forest fire hits the giant forest;  comes out of the giant sequoias unknown

A lightning-triggered wildfire in Sequoia National Park burned the edge of the Giant Forest, home to some 2,000 giant sequoias, including one of the largest known trees in the world.

The KNP complex fire on Friday crossed the westernmost point of the forest off General’s Highway near the Four Guardsmen, a cluster of giant redwoods that mark the entrance to the forest, said Steven Bekkerus, manager. Southern Area Blue Team Public Information. The forest is located east of Fresno.

The bases of the trees have been wrapped in a protective film that can withstand high heat and is typically used to protect structures from flames, he said. But it was not clear how much the fire burned in the area or how the trees got out of it, he said.

Giant sequoias are considered one of the most fire-adapted species on Earth, but experts say drought-stressed trees are increasingly no longer living up to the massive, high-intensity fires stoked by the change. climate and the accumulation of dry vegetation in the forests of the western United States.

Crews hoped to get in and assess the situation later on Saturday, but first had to clear the general road – the only way to get in and out of the forest – of falling rocks and flaming vegetation that continued to roll over. the road, said Bekkerus.

This happened when the two fires that made up the complex – the Colony and Paradise Fires, which were started by a thunderstorm on September 9 – merged overnight, swelling to 17,857 acres and heading north. and the northeast. Firefighters reported 0% containment.

As of Saturday morning, the blaze had not affected most of the giant forest, including the famous General Sherman tree, considered the world’s largest by volume, Bekkerus said. The tree is at the northern end of the forest.

Authorities weren’t sure the flames would reach there later that day.

“We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen today,” Bekkerus said. “Today can be a day of active fire.”

Fire activity began to increase around 2 p.m. Friday, when the wind picked up and a reversal of smoke picked up, allowing the sun to warm the vegetation, Bekkerus said.

“In fact, we had to withdraw our crews for safety reasons,” he said.

Teams were back to fight the blaze on Saturday morning, he said. They were also protecting structures in the Mineral King and Three Rivers cabin communities, where more than 100 homes were at risk, he said.

There were 416 people assigned to the incident, with more resources on order, Bekkerus said.

“This is one of the highest priority fires in the country right now, so we are trying to pool these resources and get what we need,” he said.

Firefighters were scrambling to make progress before a red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service went into effect at 5 p.m. at 45 mph, said Bill South, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.

“All of this combined could lead to extreme fire behavior,” he said.

Critical weather conditions for the fires are expected to persist for most of the weekend, with the warning due to expire at 8 p.m. on Sunday, he said.

“Anytime you have big wind events, these are tough,” Bekkerus said. “There is not much we can do to stop this. “

Teams had been working since last week to prepare the giant forest for fire by wrapping trees, including General Sherman, in a protective structure and raking vegetation around their bases.

Hotshots specially trained to light low intensity fires were also prepared to ignite dust around trees if necessary, depending on the progress of the blaze, he said.

The Forest Service has been carrying out controlled burns in redwood groves since the 1960s to remove excess vegetation that could help the fire burn harder and carry it up to the treetops, Bekkerus said. They were challenged by limited resources and the fact that the windows for burning have narrowed due to rising temperatures, decreasing precipitation, and longer and more active fire seasons.

Still, authorities hope the story will help ensure that if the fire burns in the rest of the forest, it will do so at a low enough intensity to benefit the towering giants, which have bark up to 2 feet thick. , branches that extend above the flames and cones that release seeds when exposed to an explosion of heat.

“It’s important to remember that these trees are thousands of years old,” Bekkerus said. “They are used to shooting.

A giant sequoia can survive a forest fire if only 5% of its crown remains intact. At the same time, Bekkerus noted, trees can still succumb to fires that burn sufficiently, especially in hot, dry conditions that made them more vulnerable initially.

“We are currently experiencing a historic drought and these trees are under stress,” said Bekkerus.

Giant sequoias only grow on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, where there are around 70 groves. Last year, the castle fire burned down portions of about 20 of these groves with such intensity that it caused the crowns of some trees to burn and destroy their cones rather than helping them release seeds. . Researchers estimate that the fire killed 7,500 to 10,600 trees, or 10 to 14% of the world’s natural population.

The Giant Sequoias Land Coalition of federal and state agencies, universities, tribes and conservationists is currently working on a plan to ensure the long-term viability of trees in the face of what has become an existential threat, said Bekkerus.

He noted that the giant sequoia is an iconic symbol of the nation’s open spaces and features prominently in the National Park Service logo.

“It is the second oldest park in the country after Yellowstone, and the raison d’être of the park is the redwoods,” he said. “So these are very important resources that we are working hard to protect. “