Firefighters are working non-stop to try and protect some of California’s oldest natural treasures. Wildfires moved into the Sequoia National Forest Sunday and now threaten hundreds of sequoia trees. Some of those trees are more than 2,000 years old.
The KNP Complex Fire reached the Long Meadow Grove Sunday where 100 sequoias stand more than 200 feet tall. The extent of the damage is unknown, as they are in remote locations. Though an AP photographer saw flames burning up the side of at least one of the trees and the forest floor was ablaze, The Guardian reported.
Firefighters are working to prevent the fires from reaching deeper into the national forest, the New York Post said.
Fire crews wrapped the base of “the General Sherman Tree,” the world’s tallest tree, with foil to protect it from heat damage. The tree is at least 2,500 years old and stands 275 feet tall. Firefighters wrapped other historic sequoia trees in foil as well.
Firefighters swept the forest floor to remove dry needles and leaves, which fuel fires, officials said. They also set a strategic fire along Generals Highway to create a barrier between the conflagration and the historic groves.
Strong winds around the KNP Complex Fire led to “critical fire conditions” and hindered the firefighters’ efforts on Sunday.
The KNP Complex fire started as two separate lightning-started wildfires. But they merged last week into a single blaze on the western side of Sequoia national park in the Sierra Nevada. As of Monday morning, that fire burned more than 21,000 acres of land in California. And it is 0 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.
Climate Change Blamed For Rise in Wildfires
Much of the western United States is suffering through a historic drought that scientists blame on climate change. The West is considerably much drier than it was 30 years ago, studies show, the Guardian reported. These conditions have increased the number of wildfires and made them more intense and harder to contain.
This year alone, California has suffered through more than 7,000 wildfires. They have destroyed more than 3,000 homes and buildings and scorched more than 3,000-square miles of land, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
Natasha Stavros, an applied science system engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, studies wildfires. She notes that not only are there more wildfires, but they’re also happening at the same time. This is draining resources and making prevention harder, which fuels fires later.
The dry air and dried vegetation are also providing a fertile bed for wildfires to start and grow quickly.
“Climate affects how long, how hot and how dry fire seasons are,” she said. “As the climate warms, we’re seeing a long-term drying and warming of both air and vegetation.”