THREE RIVERS, California.
California wildfires have destroyed at least four groves of gigantic ancient redwoods in national parks and forests, although the cooler weather on Friday helped teams try to keep the flames out of a notorious cluster containing the tallest tree in the world.
The fires spread to groves with trees up to 61 meters tall and 2,000 years old, including Oriole Lake Grove in Sequoia National Park and North and South Peyrone Groves in nearby Sequoia National Forest.
The fire had also reached Long Meadow Grove, in the forest, where then-President Bill Clinton signed a proclamation two decades ago establishing a national monument. Firefighters have not yet been able to determine the extent of damage to the groves, which are in remote and hard-to-reach areas.
“These groves are just as impressive and just as ecologically important to the forest. They just aren’t that well-known, ”Tim Borden, Redwood Restoration and Stewardship Manager for the Save the Redwoods League, told the Bay Area News Group. “My heart sinks when I think about it.”
The flames were still about a mile (1.5 kilometers) from the famous giant forest, where some 2,000 massive redwood trees grow on a high plateau in the mountains of the national park.
Firefighters placed special foil wrap around the base of the General Sherman tree, the world’s largest by volume at 1,487 cubic meters (52,508 cubic feet), along with other redwoods and buildings.
The material can withstand intense heat for short periods of time and has been used in national parks and forests for several years across the West to protect sensitive structures from flames.
Lower temperatures and a layer of smoke covering the area were a benefit in helping to extinguish the flames. “Growth has been slow,” said Katy Hooper, fire information officer.
A major part of the grove defense is decades of prescribed burns – intentionally started fires to rid the forest floor of vegetation that could fuel larger fires – and thinning projects to remove small trees that could become ladders carrying fire to the tops of giants. .
The tactics fell short of a fire in the region last year that killed thousands of redwoods, which grow as tall as skyscrapers at certain elevations on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada.
A historic drought linked to climate change makes forest fires more difficult to fight. Scientists say climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather conditions more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.
Lightning sparked two fires in the park on September 9, officials said. The colony fire, closest to the giant forest, reached just under 13 square kilometers. The Paradise Fire burned nearly 13 square miles (34 square kilometers).
More than 400 firefighters have been assigned to the fires, which are managed collectively as a KNP complex. More resources have been requested, Hooper said.
To the south, the Windy Fire has reached nearly 28 square kilometers in the Tule River Indian Reservation and Giant Redwoods National Monument, where it has burned a grove of redwoods and threatened others. The difficult terrain made it difficult for authorities to assess the damage to large trees.
Sequoia National Park is the second natural gem threatened by forest fires in less than a month.
Lake Tahoe, the blue alpine lake perched in the mountains on the California-Nevada line, was threatened by the Caldor explosive fire until firefighters stopped its destructive march. Containment there reached 71%.
Meanwhile, great climate change was taking shape in parts of the west hit by drought and fire.
Forecasters said a storm from the Pacific would bring rain to the Pacific Northwest and parts of northern California over the weekend. The rain was not expected to come as far south as Sequoia National Park.