LOS ANGELES. Lightning-triggered wildfires have killed thousands of giant sequoias this year, officials said Friday, resulting in a staggering death toll in two years, accounting for nearly a fifth of the largest trees on Earth.
Fires in Sequoia National Park and the surrounding National Forest have broken through more than a third of California’s groves and burned approximately 2,261 to 3,637 redwoods, the largest trees by volume.
Last year, nearby wildfires killed an unprecedented 7,500 to 10,400 giant sequoias, which are found in only 70 groves scattered along the western side of the Sierra Nevada range. Loss now ranges from 13% to 19% of the 75,000 sequoias over 4 feet (1.2 meters) in diameter.
A flame so strong that it is hot enough and high enough to kill so many giant sequoias – trees once thought to be nearly fireproof – exclamations about the impact of climate change. The warming planet, causing hotter droughts, combined with centuries of suppression of wildfires that drowned out forests with thick underbrush, ignited a flame that became the death knell for trees from ancient civilizations.
“The sobering reality is that we are witnessing another huge loss in a limited population of these iconic trees that are irreplaceable in many lives,” said Clay Jordan, Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “As impressive as these trees are, we really can’t take them for granted. Some action is needed to ensure that they are with our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. ”
California has experienced the largest fires in the past five years. Last year, a record was set for the number of burned-out areas, and this year it comes in second.
The death of trees this year could have been worse if heavy rain and snow on October 25 had not extinguished the fire. The fires burned from August last year to January.
After fires at the SQF castle and complex last year caught officials by surprise and made some tree lovers cry, emergency measures have been taken this year to save the largest and oldest trees.
General Sherman’s tree – the largest living thing on earth – and other ancient people, which serve as a backdrop for photographs that rarely reflect the grandeur and scale of giant sequoias, were wrapped in foil blankets.
A fire-resistant gel, similar to the absorbent used in baby diapers, has been dropped onto canopies that can reach 200 feet (60 meters) in height. Sprinklers watered the trunks, and flammable substances were raked from the trees.
These measures helped save the Giant Forest, the park’s first massive grove of trees, but the measures could not be applied everywhere.
Much of the Suwani grove in the park was burned down by a massive fire at the Marble fork in the Kavea River. The hungry grove complex in the Sequoia National Forest has been largely destroyed.
The greatest damage occurred in Redwood Mountain Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. Hell became so violent that it created a cloud of fire that raised the wind at 60 miles per hour (97 km / h).
According to Christie Brigham, head of resource management and science for parks, the fire ecologist accurately predicted the areas that would burn the hottest, but in such volatile conditions, nothing could be done to save the trees in the second largest grove.
“It’s even more heartbreaking to me that we knew about this and couldn’t take action to protect him,” Brigham said.
The most damaged groves resemble wooden graveyards with blackened trunks soaring high in the sky. The awnings have changed color from bright green to rusty. Many damaged trees are expected to die in three to five years.
The Redwood Salvation League, which lost one of the world’s largest waterfall trees in 2020, suffered losses this year in its Red Hill grove.
“We have to call this giant sequoia situation an emergency,” said League President Sam Hodder. “Just a few years ago, the loss of a handful of giant sequoias to wildfires in a season was considered unprecedented, but now we are losing thousands.”
According to Brigham, in 2013, a climate simulation was carried out in the park, according to which extreme fires will not threaten redwoods for another 50 years. But that was at the beginning of what turned into a severe five-year drought that essentially broke the model.
During the drought of 2015, giant sequoias were lit in the park for the first time. Two fires in 2017 have killed even more giant sequoias. Just over 200 giant sequoias were killed in the fires, which served as a warning of what was about to happen.
“Then there was a fire in the castle, and it was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Brigham said. “We’ve gone from a warning sign to burning hair. Losing 7000 trees in one fire is crazy. “
An accurate death tally for the past year is not available because crews confirmed how many trees died when lightning struck Sequoia National Forest on September 9, setting off a Windfire in Sequoia National Forest and two fires that merged into the SQF complex in the park, Brigham said.
Not all of the news in the fire report was dark.
While the flames burned in 27 groves and a large number of trees were burned, a lot of the low-intensity fire that redwoods need to thrive will destroy vegetation, and the heat from the fire will open the buds so they can spread their seeds.
There was also less damage in many groves, where the park routinely used a prescribed fire to clear accumulated vegetation in cooler, wetter conditions. These successes highlighted the need to scale up this work and, if it is too risky, to start thinning, Jordan said.
However, in areas where the fire is so intense that the seeds have died and the trees have not recovered, additional assistance may be needed. For the first time, the park is considering the possibility of planting seedlings to preserve the species.
“I’m not ready to give up giant sequoias,” Brigham said. “This is a call to action to better protect the remaining old thickets and make our Sierra Nevada forests resistant to wildfires as the fire is approaching.”
If you plant seedlings, then it will take hundreds of years to restore the lost trees.