The lightning-induced KNP Complex fire that began on September 9 has burned into 15 giant sequoia groves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, the head of resource management and science Christy Brigham told Bloomberg Green.
Two groves were torched by the high-intensity fire, which sent 100-foot flames up the tree trunks and had the ability to burn the canopies of the giant sequoias, which stand at an average of 300 feet tall.
Brigham warned that the trees, which could measure up to 20 feet in diameter and have lifespans in the thousands of years, could go up ‘like a horrible Roman candle’.
South of the KNP Complex, the 152-acre Windy Fire has burned at least 74 sequoias, according to wildfire botanist Garrett Dickman.
He counted 29 sequoias in one grove that were ‘just incinerated’.
‘There were four of those that had burned so hot that they’d fallen over,’ he added.
The California wildfires that have been charring the state for months may have killed hundreds of giant sequoias across the Sierra Nevada
Giant sequoias live thousands of years and grow an average of 300 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter
In the Giant Forest, which is home to about 2,000 giant sequoias, including the world’s largest tree by volume the General Sherman Tree (pictured), firefighters are taking extra measures to protect the trees by wrapping fire-resistant material around the base of the trunks
As of Thursday, only 11 percent of 134 square miles of burning forest in the KNP Complex was contained. Cooler weather over the past week has helped slow the blaze and the forecast is for slight rain on Friday.
One grove of 5,000 towering trees had many engulfed in low- to medium-intensity fires, which sequoias have evolved to survive, Brigham told Bloomberg.
Wildfires that spread to the tops of trees – especially very tall trees – can move quickly through the forest, as the tops of the trees explode, showering embers over a large area below them.
In the Giant Forest – home to about 2,000 sequoias, including the world’s largest tree by volume the General Sherman Tree – two massive trees crumpled to the ground.
Brigham noted that the grove appeared to be mostly intact but said that the fires are still ‘heartbreaking’.
Firefighters have taken extra precautions to protect the trees, which only grow naturally along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, by wrapping fire-resistant material around the base of the trunks.
They have also raked to clear surrounding vegetation and have installed sprinklers to douse them with water or fire-resistant gel, Bloomberg reported.
Brigham said that the full extent of the damage won’t be known for months, until the fires are completely out.
Firefighters have also raked to clear surrounding vegetation and have installed sprinklers to douse the sequoias with water or fire-resistant gel to prevent the fire from killing them
Last year, the Castle Fire that torched in and around Sequoia Park killed an estimated 10,600 giant sequoias – between 10 and 14 percent of the entire species’ population
The full extent of the fire’s damages won’t be known for months as the groves are still ablaze
South of the KNP Complex the 152-acre Windy Fire has burned at least 74 sequoias. In 2021 alone more than 3,000 square miles of land has burned
While giant sequoias need low-intensity fire to open their seedlings and reproduce, fire officials say that the more recent wildfires have been more fierce. They cited past fire suppression efforts that left behind undergrowth that has since completely dried out from climate change-driven droughts.
Last year, the Castle Fire torched an estimated 10,600 giant sequoias, which amounted to between 10 and 14 percent of the entire species’ population.
Brigham said that every burned giant sequoia is a loss and the groves cannot make a full recovery.
‘You can’t get it back, it’s irreplaceable,’ she said, adding that ‘when you stand by a tree that big and that old – 1,000 to 2,000 years old – the loss of any kind is a heartbreak’.
So far this year, fires in California have burned more than 3,000 square miles of land, destroying more than 3,000 homes, commercial properties and other structures in its path, Bloomberg reported.
The problem is only worsening as human-caused climate change has caused a more than 20-year megadrought along the West Coast state, fire officials said.