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Monday, December 05, 2022

Wildfire grows near famous Yosemite grove of sequoia trees

Yosemite National Park, Calif. ( Associated Press) — The largest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park was closed on Friday as wildfires in the dense forest became the latest in recent years to kill the world’s largest trees.

Yosemite Fire Information spokeswoman Nancy Philippe said a team was being dispatched to Mariposa Grove to wrap some of the larger trunks in fire-resistant foil as the fire got out of control.

More than 500 mature sequences were threatened but there were no reports of serious damage to any of the named trees, such as the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant.

Philip said the cause of the fire was under investigation and the rest of the park was open as about 300 firefighters tried to douse the blaze with the help of two water-dropping helicopters and an air tanker dumping flame retardants.

The giant sequoia, native only to the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada range, was once considered impervious to flames, but has become increasingly vulnerable to wildfires due to the build-up of underground from a century of fire suppression. have increased and due to climate change drought has become more. intense and destructive.

Lightning-driven wildfires have killed a fifth of all sequoias, the largest trees by volume, in the past two years.

Phillips said there was no apparent natural spark for Thursday’s fire next to the park’s Washburn Trail. Smoke was reported by visitors walking into the grove, which reopened in 2018 after a $40 million renovation that took three years.

The grove, which is inside the park’s southern entrance, was evacuated and there were no casualties.

Philip said the fire had tripled overnight to 166 acres (67 ha) by Friday. Fire officials had previously estimated that 250 acres (101 ha) had been burned, but this was revised after a closer assessment.

The nearby village of Wawona, where some 600 to 700 people were staying in campgrounds, cabins and a historic hotel, was under an evacuation advisory. A community meeting was planned and visitors and residents were encouraged to be ready to go.

“Our priorities are of course the huge sequoia and Wawona’s community,” said Philippe.

A year and a half ago a fierce storm ripped through the grove and downed 15 giant sequoias along with countless other trees.

Fallen trees as well as large numbers of pines killed by bark beetles provided enough fuel for the flames, but on Friday the winds were calm and the fire was not spreading rapidly.

The park uses fixed burns to clear the brush around the sequoias, which helps protect them when the flames spread to the grove.

“When unwanted fires hit those areas, it slows down the rate of spread and helps us gain some control,” Philippe said.

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