California wildfires: Hundreds of giant sequoias may have burned, reports say

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    Hundreds of giant sequoias may have burned in northern California wildfires, according to officials. 

    The Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks wrote in a Facebook post Thursday that there were some groves in the park that they had suspected burned at high enough intensity to result in sequoia mortality and “possibly for significant numbers of trees (hundreds).”

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    “However, we are currently focused on prioritization and treatment of groves that are threatened and outside the current fire footprint, as well as mopping up trees that need it. It is not safe right now, nor is it our current priority to fully assess groves that have burned. These groves will be fully assessed from the ground by resource managers when it is possible, but that will be after the fire is basically out cold and conditions allow them to get in there – likely in 2022,” the officials noted. 

    Head of resource management and science for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks Christy Brigham told reporters Wednesday that the news was “heartbreaking” and that the lightning-caused KNP Complex had burned into 15 giant sequoia groves in the park.

    The Tulare County 85,952-acre blaze was 11% contained on Friday, according to InciWeb.

    Flames burn up a tree as part of the Windy Fire in the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest, California, on Sept. 19, 2021. Northern California wildfires may have killed hundreds of giant sequoias as they swept through groves of the majestic monarchs in the Sierra Nevada, an official said Wednesday. 

    Flames burn up a tree as part of the Windy Fire in the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest, California, on Sept. 19, 2021. Northern California wildfires may have killed hundreds of giant sequoias as they swept through groves of the majestic monarchs in the Sierra Nevada, an official said Wednesday. 
    (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File, File)

    There are more than 2,000 firefighters battling the flames and, on Wednesday, four people were injured when a tree fell on them. 

    Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks said that while the individuals’ injuries were serious, all four were in stable condition at nearby hospitals.

    The fire’s impact on giant sequoia groves was mixed, and Brigham said most saw low-to medium-intensity fire behavior that the thick-barked trees have evolved to survive.

    That said, two groves with thousands of trees were reportedly set ablaze by high-intensity fire, and two trees fell in Giant Forest, home to the General Sherman Tree. 

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    Fortunately, the most notable trees survived, and the grove appeared to be relatively intact.

    Giant sequoias grow naturally only in the Sierra Nevada, can reach up to 250 feet tall and live for thousands of years.

    Firefighters were seen wrapping sequoias’ bases – like General Sherman – with fire-resistant material in addition to clearing vegetation around them, dousing some with water or fire-retardant gel or installing sprinklers.

    The southern Windy Fire killed at least 74 large sequoias, botanist Garrett Dickman told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.

    Dickman, who normally works in Yosemite National Park, has recorded damage as part of a sequoia task force.

    Firefighters battle the Windy Fire on Sept. 19, 2021, as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, California. More than 2,000 firefighters were on the lines of the Windy Fire burning on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Sequoia National Forest, including Giant Sequoia National Monument.

    Firefighters battle the Windy Fire on Sept. 19, 2021, as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, California. More than 2,000 firefighters were on the lines of the Windy Fire burning on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Sequoia National Forest, including Giant Sequoia National Monument.
    (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File, File)

    InciWeb showed the 97,541-acre Windy Fire was 80% contained on Friday.

    The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) said on Facebook that large fire activity was beginning to moderate for parts of the country – excluding southern California and the northern Rockies – as widespread moisture this week aided firefighters in reaching containment goals.

    Wildfires have burned nearly 6 million acres this season amid the West’s historic megadrought. More than 3,000 square miles have burned in California.

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    Fire officials said recent fires have been more intense due to undergrowth that’s dried up from the climate change-linked drought.

    Scientists say that climate change has made the region much warmer and drier and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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