Historic drought tied to climate change is making wildfires harder to fight. It has killed millions of trees in California alone.
Four famous giant sequoias were not harmed by a wildfire that reached the edge of Giant Forest in California’s Sequoia National Park.
The Four Guardsmen, a group of trees that form a natural entryway on the road to the forest, were successfully protected from the KNP Complex fire by the removal of nearby vegetation and by wrapping fire-resistant material around the bases of the trees, the firefighting management team said in a statement on Sunday.
The KNP Complex began as two lightning-sparked fires that eventually merged and has scorched more than 96 square kilometers in the heart of sequoia country on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada.
There was no immediate word, however, on the full extent of damage in several other sequoia groves reached by a separate blaze, the Windy Fire, in the Giant Sequoia National Monument area of Sequoia National Forest and the Tule River Indian Reservation.
The Windy Fire has burned through the Peyrone and Red Hill groves, as well as a portion of the Long Meadow Grove along the Trail of 100 Giants.
A portion of one giant sequoia along the trail was confirmed to have burned, said Thanh Nguyen, a spokesman for the fire command.
Fire crews with hoses and water-dropping helicopters were working to limit damage to the giant sequoias in the groves, where there are also other types of trees.
Sequoias have adapted to fire and can benefit if the flames are low intensity.
The Windy Fire has scorched more than 101 square kilometers and was just four percent contained.
Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to grow. But the extraordinary intensity of fires — fuelled by climate change — can overwhelm the trees.
The KNP Complex forced the evacuation of Sequoia National Park last week, and on Sunday much of the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park was closed.
Visitors to areas that were still open were warned of hazardous air quality due to smoke.
A large area of Northern California was under a red flag warning for extreme fire danger on Monday (local time) due to dry offshore winds that can raise fire danger.
The warning did not extend into Southern California, but forecasters said there would be weak Santa Ana winds and significant warming — elevating the risk of wildfires.
Historic drought tied to climate change is making wildfires harder to fight.
The fires already have burned into several groves containing trees as tall as 61 meters and 2000 years old.
The giant sequoia known as the General Sherman Tree with its base wrapped in a fire-resistant blanket to protect it from the intense heat of approaching wildfires at Sequoia National Forest in California
A fire-resistant wrap covers a historic welcome sign, as the KNP Complex Fire burns in Sequoia National Park, California, on September 15. The blaze is burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2000 giant sequoias.
Scientists say climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
More than 7000 wildfires in California this year have damaged or destroyed more than 3000 homes and other buildings and torched well over 7770 square kilometers of land, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
It has killed millions of trees in California alone.