Northern California wildfires may have killed hundreds of giant sequoias as they swept through the majestic kingspot trees in the Sierra Nevada, an official said on Wednesday.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Christy Brigham, head of resource management and science for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Brigham said the KNP complex, which erupted on September 9 due to lightning, has burned down 15 huge sequoia groves in the park.
Brigham said most saw low- to moderate-intensity fire behavior, which has evolved to survive.
However, it appeared that two trees—including one with 5,000 trees—were burned by high-intensity fires, which can send out 100-foot (30-meter) flames that can be used to spread the canopy of giant trees. able to burn.
This leaves emperors at risk of going up “like a terrifying Roman candle,” Brigham said.
Two burnt trees fell in the Giant Forest, which is home to about 2,000 sequences, including the General Sherman Tree, which is believed to be the world’s largest by volume. However, the most notable trees survived and Brigham said the grove remained mostly intact.
Firefighters have taken extraordinary measures to protect the sequoia by wrapping fire-resistant material around some veterans’ bases, clearing vegetation around them, installing sprinklers, and dousing some with water or fire-retardant gel.
However, the full extent of the damage will not be known for months, Brigham said. He said firefighters are still engaged in protecting trees, homes and life or cannot safely reach the steep, remote trees that lack roads or trails.
The KNP complex was up only 11% on Thursday after burning 134 square miles (347 square kilometers) of forest. Forecasters said cooler weather has helped slow the flames and the region could receive light rain on Friday.
To the south, the Windy Fire had burned at least 74 sequoias, Garrett Dickman told the Los Angeles Times. The forest fire botanist recorded the damage as part of the Sequoia Task Force preparing and assessing the trees in the fire area.
In a grove, Dickman counted 29 sequences that were “just lit,” he told CNN.
“There were four of them that were so hot that they collapsed,” he said.
The 152-acre (395-square-kilometer) fire was 75 percent under control.
Giant sequoias only grow naturally in the Sierra Nevada. The world’s largest trees, they can grow to over 250 feet (76 m) tall with a diameter of 20 feet (6 m) and can live for thousands of years.
Trees require low intensity fire to reproduce. The flames thin the forest of competitors such as cedars, cast away shade, and the heat causes the shoots to open up. But fire officials say the flames have been much more intense recently as firefighting efforts have left more development that has been bone-dried by climate change-induced drought.
Last year’s Castle Fire in and around Sequoia National Park is estimated to have killed 10,600 giant sequoias, or 10% to 14% of the entire population.
Brigham said that although some trees have only suffered minor fire damage and will recover, every burnt giant sequoia is a loss.
“When you’re standing beside that big and old tree that’s 1,000 to 2,000 years old, it’s a heartbreak to lose someone,” she said. “You can’t get it back, it’s irreparable.”
California fires have burned more than 3,000 square miles (7,800 square kilometers) so far in 2021, destroying more than 3,000 homes, commercial properties and other structures. Fire scientists say hot and dry weather, coupled with decades of fire suppression, has contributed to the increase in the number of acres burned by wildfires. And the problem is exacerbated by the more than 20-year-old western megadrought that studies have linked human-caused climate change.