Sep 17, 2021
A grove of ancient trees in Sequoia National Park remained Friday in the path of a California wildfire that has already triggered evacuations and other protective efforts including wrapping some of the iconic trees--including the planet's biggest--in protective foil covering.
The immediate threat is the KNP Complex fire. Spanning 9,365 acres, the complex includes the Paradise Fire and the Colony Fire, both sparked by lightning last week.
A Thursday update from the National Park Service indicated that crews were "removing fuel and applying structure wrap on some of the iconic monarch sequoias that characterize the most famous area of Sequoia National Park," adding that "the fire continues to grow in all directions."
Among the giant sequoias covered with the heat-resistant foil is the General Sherman Tree, believed to be at least 2,200 years old, which stands in the park's Giant Forest. It's the largest tree on the planet by volume, standing 275 feet tall with a base measuring over 36 feet.
Sequoias can live for thousands of years and are adapted to repeated fires, with their cones releasing seeds under the dried-out conditions and thriving under ash-covered soil. "But the extraordinary intensity of fires--fueled by climate change--can overwhelm the trees," the Associated Pressreported.
The potential for such losses on a planet besieged by the climate crisis was realized last year when the Castle Fire struck the Sierra Nevada. As many as 10,600 large sequoias--10% to 14% of those in the tree's natural range--were killed.
"These trees have been here 1,500 years, so how many fires have they withstood: 80?" Scott Stephens, a fire scientist at UC Berkeley, toldNPR as he surveyed the tree damage from the Castle Fire. "And then one fire comes in 2020 and suddenly they're gone."
According to Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), the flames threatening the ancient trees this week should serve as a clear call-to-action on the climate emergency.
"If we don't address the climate crisis with urgency, we risk losing irreplaceable treasures like the famous California Giant sequoias," he tweeted Thursday. "We can't wait any longer to #ActOnClimate."
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