A series of devastating wildfires in California are now threatening to burn down the state’s old-growth sequoia grove in Sierra Nevada, prompting firefighters to wrap the base of the world’s largest tree in a fire-resistant blanket.
The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest, a number of other sequoias, and the Giant Forest Museum were wrapped in fire-retardant material to protect them against the possibility of intense flames, according to fire spokeswoman Rebecca Paterson, Fox News reported. Other buildings were also covered in the material.
Federal officials have been using aluminum wrapping, which can withstand intense heat for short periods of time, to save buildings in the region. Homes near Lake Tahoe that were wrapped in the material survived a recent wildfire while others were obliterated in the flames.
The Colony Fire, which is one of two presently burning wildfires in Sequoia National Park, was expected to reach the Giant Forest within a few days. The forest holds roughly 2,000 giant sequoias. It is unknown if the fire managed to reach the location as a layer of smoke dampened the blaze, according to the Associated Press.
The Associated Press reported:
It comes after a wildfire killed thousands of sequoias, some as tall as high-rises and thousands of years old, in the region last year.
The General Sherman Tree is the largest in the world by volume, at 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters), according to the National Park Service. It towers 275 feet (84 meters) high and has a circumference of 103 feet (31 meters) at ground level.
The state has a 50-year history of using prescribed burns, which see fires set on purpose to remove undergrowth and vegetation that can feed wildfires, to protect the giant trees in the park’s groves.
A “robust fire history of prescribed fire in that area is reason for optimism,” Paterson said. “Hopefully, the Giant Forest will emerge from this unscathed.”
The giant trees are adapted to fire, which generally allows them to thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to grow. However, the intensity of recent wildfires has overwhelmed the trees’ ability to withstand fires that they have previously survived. In 2020, the Castle Fire engulfed up to 10,600 sequoias according to the National Park Service.
The AP continued:
A historic drought and heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
A national interagency fire management team took command of efforts to fight the 11.5-square-mile (30-square-kilometer) Paradise Fire and the 3-square-mile (8-square-kilometer) Colony Fire, which was closest to the grove. Operations to burn away vegetation and other fuel that could feed the flames were done in that area.