National Parks Service Announces California Wildfires Have Seriously Damaged Thousands of Trees

by Jennifer Shea
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More than 10,000 trees along Generals Highway in northern California, which runs through giant sequoia groves, have been damaged by drought, disease or wildfires, the National Park Service said in a press release Friday.

The trees, which the NPS refers to as “hazard trees,” pose a danger to the public due to the possibility that they will fall on people, vehicles or buildings, or will block roads needed by emergency response vehicles.

Multiple saw crews have been deployed to carve out safe travel zones for firefighters and residents, the NPS said in the release. Together with feller bunchers, they are working to clear the area around the roads. But until they make more headway, Generals Highway will remain closed to the public.

KNP Complex Fire Is 60 Percent Contained

The area remains scarred by a recent wildfire that is not yet 100 percent contained. The KNP Complex Fire ignited on Sept. 9. It started out as two lightning-caused fires that came together to form one massive blaze.

The KNP Complex Fire has torched 138 square miles of forest. It is beginning to abate as of this weekend, however.

Since colder weather swept in, the blaze has slowed, and rain is expected for the area beginning Sunday. The fire is now 60 percent contained.

Meanwhile, Sequoia National Park officials are moving from suppression to recovery mode, planning to safely reopen the park. A damage assessment team has started work around the park and is looking for hazard trees and mudslide danger zones.

“Not to be overly dramatic but this is real life. An example: the Thomas Fire from a few years ago. The fire itself, unfortunately, killed two people, but it was the post-fire event that killed 21 people,” a fire official told YourCentralValley.com.

Wildfire May Have Taken Out Hundreds of Giant Sequoias

Generals Highway, which is part of State Route 180, has been closed in the wake of the KNP Complex Fire. It is flanked by thousands of sequoia, pine and conifer trees.

The highway links Giant Forest and Grant Grove, per the Associated Press. The former plays host to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s biggest tree by volume. The latter includes the General Grant Tree, the world’s second-largest tree.

Firefighters went to great lengths to protect the giant sequoia groves in the area. They rolled fire-resistant material around the bases of some trees. They cleared the vegetation around the trees. And they even installed sprinklers or hosed down trees with water or fire-resistant gel.

NPS officials have estimated the wildfire may have killed hundreds of giant sequoias. But on Friday, forest officials unwrapped the base of the General Sherman tree. It made it through the blazes intact.

“We’re confident that tree is relatively safe,” fire department spokeswoman Kimberly Caschalk told the AP.

While recent storms have blunted the effects of the largest wildfires to strike the western U.S. this year, the drought that has led to more wildfires isn’t going away soon. Many scientists say the drought is a result of climate change caused by human activity, and left unaddressed, it will continue to make wildfires tougher to fight.

Outsider.com