Fires in Northern California Threaten Historic Trees

Posted: September 21, 2021 11:54 am

Fall is upon us this week, but that does not mean that the wildfire danger out west has died down. In particular, Northern California continues to contend with dangerous fire conditions that threaten trees that have been around for thousands of years.

Red Flag Warnings Issued

Red flag warnings were put in place on Monday for a large portion of Northern California as at least 10 large wildfires rage throughout the region. The warnings include the area where the Dixie Fire continues to burn. As the state’s second-largest fire ever recorded, this blaze has been burning for over two months. The current red flag warnings affect approximately six million people in the state.

KNP Complex Fire

One of the latest fires to cause significant trouble is the KNP Complex Fire. As of late Monday, this fire has burned over 23,000 acres in Sequoia National Park. Residents were strongly urged to evacuate the area near Kings Canyon National Park in Tulare County as the flames grew closer. Officials estimate that this fire will not be fully contained until the second week of October.

The fire was dubbed the KNP Complex Fire after two separate fires, the Colony Fire and Paradise Fire, merged together. Both of the fires were sparked by lightning strikes.

Crews Race to Save Historic Trees

One of the chief concerns as the KNP Complex Fire encroaches into Sequoia National Park is saving the area’s famed trees of the Giant Forest. These giant sequoia trees dot the landscape of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In an effort to protect General Sherman, known as the largest tree in the world as measured by volume, authorities have wrapped the base of the tree with protective foil blankets. General Sherman rises 275 feet tall into the air and measures 36 feet in width.

In addition to protecting the famous tree, the same blankets are also wrapped around the park’s wooden entrance sign that welcomes visitors into the park. This sign has been in use since 1935, making its protection important to many park preservationists.

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This same type of fire-resistant coverings was recently used in the Lake Tahoe area as a major fire threatened many homes and structures. The material is similar to what firefighters resort to if threatened by flames. The high-tech construction is made with both aluminum foil and fiberglass fabric. The blanket is wrapped around the base of the tree with the goal of protecting the past fire scars that may make it more likely to go up in flames.

This material is not used routinely because it is not a cost-effective option when aiming to protect structures. It is also challenging to install. However, the recent success that it demonstrated in protecting homes from flames near Lake Tahoe put it back on the radar to use to guard some of the nation’s most treasured forest land.

About the Giant Forest

Over 2,000 giant sequoias are rooted in the Giant Forest. While General Sherman is undoubtedly the most famous tree in the forest, there are plenty of other massive trees that call this place home. Fire crews were previously successful in protecting a group of sequoia trees that are located near the entrance to the park. Known as the Four Guardsman, crews were able to use the protective covering to guard the trees against the flames of the KNP Complex Fire.

Some of the trees that call this forest home are thousands of years old. While this type of tree is distinguished for its ability to withstand flames, the fire seasons of the last few years have put this toughness to the test. Just last year, the Castle Fire destroyed approximately 10% of the sequoia trees in this area.