YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — The largest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park was closed Friday and hundreds of people nearby ordered to evacuate because a wildfire burning through a dense forest became the latest in recent years to threaten the world’s largest trees.
A team was dispatched to Mariposa Grove to wrap some of the huge logs in fire-resistant aluminum foil to protect them as the fire raged out of control, said Nancy Phillipe, a Yosemite fire information spokeswoman.
More than 500 mature redwoods were threatened, but there were no reports of serious damage to any named trees, such as the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant.
The cause of the fire was being investigated and the rest of the park remained open as nearly 300 firefighters tried to control the flames with the help of two water-dropping helicopters and a tanker truck dumping flame retardant, Phillipe said.
Native to only about 70 groves spread along the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, giant sequoias were once considered impervious to flames but have become increasingly vulnerable to wildfires fueled by the brush buildup from a century of fire suppression and droughts exacerbated by climate change have become more intense and destructive.
Wildfires sparked by lightning in the last two years have killed up to a fifth of the estimated 75,000 large sequoias, which are the largest trees by volume.
There was no obvious natural spark for the fire that broke out Thursday along the park’s Washburn Trail, Phillipe said. Visitors walking in the grove that reopened in 2018 reported smoke after a $40 million renovation that took three years.
The grove, which is located inside the park’s south entrance, was evacuated and no one was injured.
The fire had grown to 466 acres (188 hectares) by Friday night, authorities said.
Evacuation orders were issued Friday for the grove along with the nearby community of Wawona, which is surrounded by the park, and Wawona Campground, where 600 to 700 people were staying in a campground, cabins and a historic hotel.
A fierce windstorm hit the forest a year and a half ago and felled 15 giant sequoias, along with many other trees.
Downed trees, along with a large number of pine trees killed by bark beetles, provided ample fuel for the flames, but Friday’s winds were calm and the fire was not spreading quickly.
The park has used prescribed burns to clear brush around the redwoods, helping to protect them if the flames spread further into the grove.
“When unwanted fires hit those areas, it tends to slow down the spread and help us get some control,” Phillipe said.
In the Sierra foothills 80 miles (128 kilometers) northwest of the Yosemite fire, some evacuation orders were lifted as containment grew to 70% on the Electra Fire that had burned 7 square miles (18 square kilometers). .
The fire broke out near Jackson on Monday, temporarily forcing about 100 people celebrating the Fourth of July holiday along a river to seek shelter at a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. facility.
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