Air Quality Warning Issued As California Wildfires Threaten Trail of Giants

by Shelby Scott

Wildfires out west continue to rage through commercial and residential areas, in addition to some of our nation’s most renowned natural parks and regions. As a result, authorities have issued an air quality warning for those near San Joaquin Valley. Further, while the smoke has caused incredibly poor air quality, the wildfires behind the air pollution now threaten California’s world-famous Trail of Giants, our country’s 1,500-year-old sequoia trees.

Several wildfires currently threaten the area, the trees, and force more evacuations farther south in California. These consist of the Windy Fire, the Paradise Fire, and KNP Complex Fire. As these fires have broken out and spread, authorities have issued evacuation orders in several towns and regions. Camp Nelson came first, followed by those enacted in the Eshom and Hartland Camp Areas. The latter lies 80 miles north of Camp Nelson.

California’s Ancient Sequoias Remain Under Wildfire Threat

However, as residents rush to leave ahead of the fires, some of the ancient trees have already suffered intense damage. Following the Windy Fire, fire personnel confirmed the famous Bench Tree, known as such due to its unique base formation, sustained damage. Although, they have been unable to assess the extent of the damage as yet.

Overall, the sequoias in the region remain dangerously close to the impending wildfires. According to incident commanders, the Windy Fire has already scorched more than 25,000 acres and remains only 4% contained. As crews work to contain the wildfire, the Windy Fire raced through Long Meadow Grove over the weekend. The grove serves as home to the iconic Trail of 100 Giants.

Farther north, the KNP Complex Fire promises to wreak havoc throughout CA’s Giant Forest. The collection of trees house some of the world’s oldest ancients, most notably General Sherman. The wisened tree measures an impressive 275 feet tall with an estimated age of about 2,200 years old.

In attempts to prevent extreme damage to the iconic tree, fire crews wrapped its base in fireproof foil blankets. While the Windy Fire appears to be most damaging currently, General Sherman remains a distant 80 miles from the blaze. However, the tree remains threatened by the much closer Paradise and Colony fires, less than 9.5 miles away overall.

Climate Change Brings Potential Sequoia Fatalities

As we’ve learned from the incredibly destructive wildfires that have taken place within the last several years especially, climate change has fueled the intensity of both drought and resulting wildfires. In connection to that, the result has been historic wildfires, damage, and further environmental destruction.

Historically, our nation’s ancient sequoias had proven hardy against earlier wildfires, heat from the fires previously proven beneficial for sequoia reproduction. However, as with trees and forests across the rest of the nation, the intense heat and massive blazes roving throughout the region each year have become more and more damaging, with the potential to kill these massive trees.

As proof, the Daily Mail stated 2020’s Castle Fire destroyed up to 14% of the world’s giant sequoias. Now, as roving fires climb to the tops of these trees and cause them to explode as a result, wildfires may potentially spread much more quickly, making total containment all the more difficult.