USA

Giant Forest trees prepped for flames in Sequoia National Park as KNP Complex fire closes in

As the growing KNP Complex fire continues its march through the Sequoia National Park, fire crews on Thursday were prepping the famed Giant Forest for flames by wrapping the bases of some of the massive sequoias in fire-resistant aluminum material.

The Colony fire — one of two blazes comprising the nearly 9,000-acre complex fire — is within a mile of the grove, and officials fear the flames could reach the giant trees within the day. The grove is home to roughly 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree, considered the largest tree on earth by volume, fire officials said.

“It’s a very significant area for many, many people, so a lot of special effort is going into protecting this grove,” said Rebecca Paterson, a spokeswoman for the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

Certain significant giants, including the General Sherman, “are being prepped the same way that we would prep structures,” Paterson said, a process that entails clearing vegetation around the trees and even using fire-resistant burn wrap made from an aluminum material around their bases.

A number of historic structures in the immediate area are being similarly prepared, fire officials said.

Crews also were planning to conduct burnout operations in vulnerable areas, a process similar to a prescribed burn that involves lighting a low-intensity ground fire close to the area of desired protection.

“If a larger and less-controlled fire enters the area, it will be slowed and sometimes even stopped by the sudden lack of fuels,” Paterson said of the burnouts.

Last year’s Castle fire wiped out 10% of the giant sequoia population — equating to thousands of the massive trees felled by the high-intensity blaze.

But there’s cause for optimism for this particular operation, Paterson said. The grove has been subjected to prescribed burns numerous times, a tactic officials say effectively clears much of the understory and overgrowth that can act as fuel for the fires — work credited with with protecting the Giant Forest from the 150,000-acre Rough fire in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Paradise fire, the larger of the two blazes, was moving dangerously close to park headquarters and employee housing in the foothills. It also burned closer to the nearby community of Three Rivers, within a mile at its nearest point. As the fire marched towards the developed areas, Paterson said, “It could be an important day.”

Sparked during a massive lightning storm on Sept. 9, the KNP Complex fire had by Thursday grown to 8,940 acres, a figure officials was likely an underestimate. It was still 0% contained after burning for a week in dense fuels and steep terrain.

The blaze has forced the evacuation of park employees and residents in portions of Three Rivers and prompted officials to close the Sequoia National Park to the public.

To the south, in the Sequoia National Forest, the Windy fire — which has already burned into a grove of giant sequoias — has reached 3,924 acres with no containment, according to fire officials.

The fire ignited Thursday in the Tule River Indian Reservation before pushing into the national forest, and by the beginning of the week, had crept into the Peyrone sequoia grove, within the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

Crews have attempted to survey the grove — located on the northern perimeter of the blaze — for potential damage, but the location amid steep, inaccessible terrain has stymied a close look, fire spokesperson Thanh Nguyen said.

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