California | Firefighters think they can save giant sequoias from fires

(Red Fir) Rescuers were hoping Friday they could save the world’s most imposing tree, California’s giant redwoods, which has been threatened in recent days by a nearby fire.




Patrick Fallon
France media agency

“We have hundreds of firefighters deployed in the area and they are doing everything they can,” Mark Garrett, a spokesman for California firefighters battling the so-called “KNP” fire, told AFP. The merger of two fires that resulted in a lightning strike a week ago at the gates of Sequoia National Park in central California, has already consumed about 46 kilometers2 of vegetation.

“The biggest challenge we faced was the (steep) terrain. But we didn’t have to face an exploding fire, the intensity of the fires decreased, which allowed us to advance.”

Sequoia National Park is home to about 2,000 giant sequoias, which grow only in this region of the world and are considered the most massive trees in existence today.

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Firefighters covered the base of a redwood, the largest tree in the world, with a fire-resistant blanket.

Firefighters have removed brush and other improvements in recent days to preserve this behemoth, some of which are 2,000 to 3,000 years old. They even put a protective, fire-retardant blanket over the base of their most famous one, dubbed “General Sherman.” With a height of 83 meters and a diameter of 11 meters at its base, experts consider it the largest tree in the world.

Backed by air resources, firefighters muster 600 or so deployed devices to ensure the flames are kept away from the nature park, which remains closed to the public.

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Sequoia Park’s “Giant Forest”, home to five of the densest trees in the world, including “General Sherman”, usually attracts tourists from all over the world.

“If the fire really gets to the woods, we’re ready,” Garrett said.

meters of bark

Low-intensity fires are generally not enough to damage the giant sequoia, which “naturally adapts” to these disasters through its highly resistant bark, which can be up to one meter thick.

“It is really difficult to burn these trees whose first branches can grow thirty meters high,” out of reach of the flames. “They saw many fires,” Mark Jarrett notes.

Conversely, these sequoias need fires to reproduce: the heat of the flame explodes the cones that have fallen to the ground like popcorn to release hundreds of seeds.

PHOTO NOAH BERGER, ASSOCIATED PRESS

But these giants, which only grow in California, on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, have not yet adapted to survive the more intense fires that have tended to erupt in recent years thanks to climate change.

In August 2020, a violent fire called “Castle Fire” destroyed 700 km2 From Sequoia Park. According to the analysis of satellite images, between 7,500 and 10,000 sequoias were destroyed by fire, or at least 10% of the world’s population of this species.

A firefighter’s spokesperson said chronic drought in the western United States and a lack of controlled fires are beginning to limit the spread of shrubs and plants.

“That’s what put us in this situation, with too many trees, which is unhealthy. When a fire happens, it gets pushed away with quite an extreme behavior.”

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Fortunately, such environmental fires (controlled fires) have been carried out for the past 25 to 30 years in the “Giant Forest,” Garrett adds.

Thousands of square kilometers of forest have already burned this year in California. The number and intensity of fires have increased in recent years across the western United States, with a marked lengthening of the fire season.

According to experts, this phenomenon is especially associated with global warming: an increase in temperature, an increase in heat waves and a decrease in precipitation in places form an ideal incendiary combination.

The Dixie Fire, which broke out in mid-July in northern California, is still burning and has already covered nearly 3,900 km.2. Soon it became the largest fire in the history of the state.

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