Wildfires Threaten California Giant Sequoia Groves

by The Chicago Times Staff

September 18, 2021

THREE RIVERS, CA — Two lightning-sparked wildfires in California merged and raced to the edge of an ancient sequoia grove, temporarily driving away firefighters who were attempting to protect the world’s tallest tree by wrapping its base in protective foil.

According to the National Park Service, a change in the weather caused explosive growth on the fires in Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada on Friday, and the flames reached the westernmost tip of the Giant Forest, scorching a grouping of sequoias known as the “Four Guardsmen,” which mark the entrance to the grove of 2,000 sequoias.

Firefighters wrapped the base of the General Sherman Tree, as well as other trees in the Giant Forest, in a heat-resistant aluminum.  It was not immediately clear how the Four Guardsmen, who were subjected to the same treatment, fared, according to fire spokeswoman Katy Hooper.

According to the National Park Service, the General Sherman Tree has the world’s largest volume at 52,508 cubic feet.  It stands 275 feet tall and has a ground-level circumference of 103 feet.

The fires, collectively known as the KNP Complex, scorched 28 square of forest land.  Fire activity increased Friday afternoon as winds increased and low-hanging smoke lifted, which had choked off air and limited the fire’s growth in recent days, according to Hooper.

According to Hooper, firefighters who were wrapping the base of the sequoias in foil and sweeping leaves and needles from the forest floor around the trees had to flee the danger.

They returned Saturday when the weather improved to continue the work and to start a strategic fire along Generals Highway to protect the Giant Forest grove, according to Hooper.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning through Sunday, stating that gusty winds and low humidity could create conditions conducive to rapid wildfire spread.  However, fire officials were not expecting the kinds of explosive wind-driven growth that has transformed Sierra Nevada blazes into monsters that have devoured hundreds of homes in recent months.

Giant sequoias are fire-adapted, which allows them to thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings for young sequoias to grow.  However, the extraordinary intensity of fires, which is exacerbated by environmentalist not allowing the clearing of deadwood from the forest floor, which acts as fuel to feed the fire.

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