‘Firefighters are going to stay busy’: Crews battle California wildfires nearing giant sequoias, world’s largest tree

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LOS ANGELES — Firefighters are battling a trio of wildfires threatening to burn further into a grove of ancient sequoias that includes the world’s largest tree.

The blazes — the KNP complex, Walkers and Windy wildfire — each sparked to the West of the Sequoia National Forest but have slowly edged east and threatened to burn down some of the world’s oldest and largest trees. 

The largest was the KNP blaze, comprised of two lightning-sparked fires in California that merged. It had grown to more than 21,000 acres as of Sunday afternoon. The blaze had already breached the Giant Forest, the world’s largest giant sequoia grove and home to Earth’s largest tree, General Sherman.

Firefighters have spent the past week preparing the Giant Forest for the impending flames. Vegetation in and around the grove was cleared while some trees — including General Sherman — were wrapped at the base in fire-resistant aluminum.

On Friday, the blaze reached the westernmost tip of the Giant Forest, where it scorched a grouping of sequoias, known as the “Four Guardsmen,” that mark the entrance to the grove of 2,000 sequoias.

But fuel removal efforts by firefighters and wraps applied by crews to the base of the sequoia trees have protected these “national treasures” thus far, a park official stated.  

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Jon Wallace, the operations section chief for the KNP Complex, said decades of fire maintenance and prescribed fires in the area since the 1960s were “making their job a lot easier.” Crews were able to slow the blaze and strategically used trails throughout the park to battle it. 

Bu, strong winds sending the fire further into the park could pose a threat Sunday. 

“It’s going to be another long day with those northwest winds coming in,” Wallace said Sunday morning. “Firefighters are going to stay busy.” 

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning through Sunday, saying gusts and lower humidity could create conditions for rapid wildfire spread.

The fires forced the evacuation of the park last week, along with parts of Three Rivers, a foothill community of about 2,500 people. Crews have been bulldozing a line between the fire and the community.

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Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to grow. But the extraordinary intensity of fires — fueled by climate change — can overwhelm the trees.

The fires already have burned into several groves containing trees as tall as 200 feet tall and 2,000 years old.

To the south, the Windy Fire grew to 28 square mile  on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Giant Sequoia National Monument, where it has burned into the Peyrone Grove of sequoias and threatens others.

The fire also had reached Long Meadow Grove, where the Trail of 100 Giant Sequoias is a national monument. Fire officials haven’t yet been able to determine how much damage was done to the groves, which are in remote and hard-to-reach areas.

Contributing: Sheyanne Romero, Visalia Times-Delta; Associated Press