The Washburn wildfire is blazing across 1,591 acres of land in Yosemite National Park, and now it’s nearing Mariposa Grove, an area home to over 500 giant sequoia trees. Washburn is just the latest wildfire threatening giant sequoias. Last September, fires burned dangerously close to General Sherman, the largest and oldest sequoia in the Giant Forest. Rangers also wrapped trees in aluminum foil to try and save them from the blazes.
Now, Mariposa Grove closed on Thursday in response to hikers noticing smoke near a trail. According to the Washington Post, the fire grew 2.5 square miles since last Sunday. The trees plus the Wawona, CA community are both threatened by Washburn. It’s reported that about 1,600 people were evacuated from Wawona and the campground.
Yosemite fire information spokeswoman Nancy Phillipe said that officials are using “every tactic imaginable” to combat the fire. Additionally, she shared that all named trees, such as Grizzly Giant, the Bachelor, and Three Graces are all intact and safe from the fire. “That is one of the main priorities,” she said, “is protecting that grove and all the history that’s associated with it.”
According to Yosemite National Park, downed trees from bark beetles, weather, and climate change-induced drought are fodder for wildfires. Controlled burns in the park help clear those downed trees and clear the way for firefighters. Plus, it takes away that fuel for wildfires.
Since 2020, three fires have threatened or destroyed giant sequoias in the park. 13 to 19 percent of all sequoias have been decimated since then, according to the Washington Post.
Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove Threatened, Officials Use ‘Every Tactic’ To Combat Wildfire
Fire crews are employing rarely used bulldozers in Yosemite National Park in order to create fire lines. These man-made fire lines are to mainly protect the community of Wawona from the encroaching fire. According to NPR, the fire has no obvious start; hikers saw smoke on Thursday near the Washburn Trail. Officials are still investigating the fire.
“When the unwanted fires hit [cleared] areas, it tends to slow the rate of spread and helps us gain some control,” Phillipe said of the controlled burns. In addition to fire lines and controlled burns, fire crews are also airdropping fire retardant on the wildfire itself in order to slow its progress.
Sequoias are natural fire deterrents, having adapted to grow thick, fibrous bark that grows up to 2-feet thick. Because of this, fire will damage the trees, but usually not kill them outright. But, it’s still in history’s best interest to do everything we can to save these ancient trees. In addition, years of undergrowth buildup and climate change have exacerbated the current wildfire season. This has caused fires to blaze hotter and more destructive.