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Sequoia National Park fire: Crews wrapping world’s largest trees with fireproof blankets

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Sequoia National Park fire: Crews wrapping world’s largest trees with fireproof blankets

Fire crews prepared to make a stand Thursday to defend one of California’s natural wonders, the most prominent grove of giant sequoia trees at Sequoia National Park, in the latest potentially catastrophic chapter of the extreme fire summer gripping much of the American West.

At the park’s Giant Forest — a breathtaking expanse of more than 2,000 ancient sequoias in the southern Sierra Nevada including five of the largest trees in the world — firefighters positioned engines, hurried to thin flammable brush and raked away combustible material from around the huge trees.

Crews wrapped the bases of some of the massive trees with fire proof aluminum blankets, including the General Sherman Tree, which is 275 feet high and 102 feet around at the base and is considered the largest tree in the world.

“They are taking extraordinary measures to protect these trees,” said Christy Brigham, chief of resource management and science at Sequoia & Kings Canyon national parks.

Since the 1970s, parks crews have conducted thinning and prescribed burns in the famous grove to reduce brush and remove smaller trees such as firs and incense cedars, increasing the chances that wildfire would stay closer to the ground and not burn intensely enough to kill the big trees.

“Even though we have done all of this prescribed fire and feel like the fire behavior when it gets in there — if it gets in there — will be fairly moderate, we just really want to do everything we can to protect these 2,000- and 3,000-year-old trees,” Brigham said.

Two other prominent giant sequoia groves in Sequoia and the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park — Grant Grove and Redwood Mountain Grove — also have had extensive thinning, she said. But many of the 40 groves of giant sequoias elsewhere in the parks have not had such treatment and could be at risk if the fire continues to spread.

“The high tourist areas are in pretty good shape,” said Tim Borden, sequoia restoration and stewardship manager at Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco environmental group. “But they aren’t completely out of the woods for being at risk because we can always have weather patterns that create extreme fire weather, like stronger winds.”

But in some of the other groves, “there is no recorded fire history in more than 100 years,” he said.

Fire-resistant wrap covers a historic welcome sign as the KNP Complex Fire burns in Sequoia National Park, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. The blaze is burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Thursday afternoon 356 firefighters were battling two fires that had been advancing toward the Giant Forest and had merged into one, a blaze known as the KNP Complex Fire. Both fires were about 1 mile away from Giant Forest grove, named by Sierra Club founder John Muir in 1875.

The fire to the west, known as the Colony Fire, was 1,683 acres. The other, advancing from the south, was the Paradise Fire, which was 7,257 acres. Both fires began on Sep. 10, ignited by lightning strikes, and were 0% contained Thursday afternoon, merging together near the Generals Highway.

Crews were fitting an emergency sprinkler system on the Giant Forest Museum, a wooden building listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The fires closed Sequoia National Park earlier this week and prompted the evacuation of rangers and other staff who live there, along with the town of Three Rivers to the west. A third fire, the Windy Fire, was burning about 30 miles south in Sequoia National Forest and the Tule River Indian Reservation. It was 3,924 acres with 0% containment Thursday afternoon.

Although Sequoia National Park doesn’t draw as many visitors as Yosemite, its neighbor to the north, it occupies a famed chapter in America’s natural heritage.

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