“We’re poised to take action on park facilities and the groves as needed,” a state fire information officer Mark Ruggiero said Monday. “We’re getting more crews and more equipment in now.”
As Monday rolls on, park officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the fate of the largest living organisms on our planet: the over 2,000 giant sequoias native to the park.
To the west of the trees, the lightning-ignited KNP Complex Fires rage. Tulare Co. is currently issuing evacuation orders for some residents as the wildfire grows past 1,000 acres. Unfortunately, this fire holds “huge potential” for growth due to the remote, dry terrain fueling it. It’s become a top priority for California’s disaster management as a result.
The KNP Complex blaze mirrors the Colony Fire, making the situation far more dire for Sequoia National Park‘s giants. Colony currently burns near the NP’s Crystal Cave Road, just 3 miles east of Giant Forest.
The dual fires, which have been burning since Friday morning, are the result of a Thursday night storm producing over 130 lightning strikes.
“These are two tough fires,” information officer Ruggiero continues for The San Francisco Chronicle of the dual threat to Sequoia National Park. “And they’re both in difficult terrain.”
But there is always hope. Park Superintendent Clay Jordan adds via a community meeting in Three Rivers that wildfire crews are “painting the mountains red with retardant for the last couple of days.”
Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest No Longer ‘Immune’ to Wildfire
But those familiar with Sequoia’s past know this threat is not a new one. Last year, the horrific Castle Fire would burn through the Giant Forest. According to The Chronicle, anywhere from 10 to 14% of the world’s sequoia tree population perished in Castle Fire.
America’s West Coast is the only natural habitat for these ancient giants, and we humans long thought sequoias invulnerable to wildfires. Yet as our climate continues to warm, wildfires begin to burn hotter and spread wider. Not even the mighty Giant Forest stands a chance against this new breed of wildfire we’re seeing.
Through the blazes, California has closed its national forests, including Sequoia, for public safety. Officials believe that at least one of the fires currently burning in the NP will reach the Giant Forest. They hope, however, that neither will burn with the fervor of Castle.
Thankfully, Sequoia National Park officials have performed regular pre-burns in Giant Forest. This significantly reduces the chance of an all-out blaze, as these controlled burns wipe out flammable vegetation before a wildfire can use it as all-consuming fuel.
Regardless, the intensity of our new world wildfires has proven they can take down anything. And 2020’s Castle Fire left plenty of giant sequoias dead, dry, and ripe for the flame.