SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – Sequoia National Park was closed and the giant trees bearing its namesake were potentially threatened on Tuesday as two wildfires ignited steep and dangerous terrain in California’s Sierra Nevada.
Both fires were thought to be moving in the direction of the Giant Forest, which is home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on Earth by volume.
Massive sequoias grow on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. According to the US National Park Service, the General Sherman Tree is 275 feet (83.8 m) tall and is over 36 feet (11 m) in diameter at the base.
“There is no imminent threat to the giant forest, but it is a potential one,” said Mark Ruggiero, fire information officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Ruggiero estimated that the nearest fire was about a mile (1.6 kilometers) away from the grove. He said Sequoia headquarters personnel, about 75 people, are being evacuated.
The Colony and Paradise fires, named after the places where they started, were ignited by lightning last week and are being fought collectively under the name of KNP Complex. Their combined size exceeded 4.7 square miles (12 square kilometers).
All park facilities had already been closed and wilderness trailhead permits were revoked. The summer cabins of Silver City Retreat and Cabin Cove were subject to evacuation orders. A portion of the Community of Three Rivers outside the entrance to the park was under evacuation alert.
Kings Canyon National Park, north of Sequoia, remained open.
The potential threat to the giant sequoias came just a year after a devastating complex of fires in the same area.
Ruggiero said that part of the wildfire known as the Castle Fire destroyed 10% of the Sequoia population.
So far this year, California has seen more than 7,400 wildfires that have scorched more than 3,500 square miles (9,065 square kilometers).
California’s second largest fire on record, the Dixie Fire, remained 75% after burning 1,500 square miles in the northern Sierra and southern Cascades region. Near Lake Tahoe, the containment of the 342-square-mile (885-square-kilometer) Caldor fire increased to 68%.