A grove containing some of the world’s oldest giant sequoia trees is under threat from a rapidly growing wildfire at California’s Yosemite national park.
From Friday to Monday, the blaze expanded from 250 acres to roughly 2,340 acres, with the terrain of timber and brush fueling the flames, officials said. Visitors on the Washburn trail of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias first reported the blaze on 7 July, and 545 firefighters and other personnel are currently working to contain it.
The firefighters’ efforts included laying down a sprinkler system within the grove to keep the trunks of more than 500 mature giant sequoias moist. Officials also hope the steady spray of sprinkler water keeps the flames away from the grove, which they had also previously protected with so-called prescribed burns aimed at clearing out materials that could help fuel fires.
None of the grove’s named trees – including the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant – had suffered significant damage as of Sunday. But the area where firefighters are working is difficult and prone to keep fires burning, especially because of a high number of trees that died in a three-year period beginning in 2013, officials said.
Firefighters narrowly averted a disaster on Sunday when blaze debris nearly struck crew members coordinating ground efforts from on board an airplane. Winds swirling around the fire’s smoke column kicked up the debris, a spokesperson for the firefighters told Reuters.
Park managers ordered more than 1,600 visitors to leave from a nearby community, campground and hotel that were preparing for the height of the summer tourist season. They closed the park’s southern entrance as smoke and soot proliferated from the point of the fire, though visitors can still use the western entrance to access some of the most popular attractions, including Yosemite Valley.
Investigators had not immediately determined what caused the fire, and as of Monday morning no injuries had been reported as a result of it.
The blaze comes after six major wildfires in California’s Sierra Nevada range have killed thousands of giant sequoias. In fact, wildfires in that area burned 85% of all giant sequoia groves between 2015 and 2021 – up from one quarter in the preceding 100 years, National Park Service officials have said.
Experts have also warned that the human-caused climate crisis is causing droughts that expose sequoias to frequent threats from wildfires.
Meanwhile, in Utah, smoke and ash emanating from a growing wildfire in rural Tooele county blew into Salt Lake City over the weekend. By Sunday afternoon, the Jacob City fire had grown to 5.9 square miles (15.3 square km), with zero containment, officials said.
Firefighters in the state were also battling a blaze in Filmore, where heavy winds were fueling the 12.4-square-mile Halfway Hill fire. Law enforcement on Saturday arrested four men who investigators said had abandoned a campfire that ignited the blaze.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed reporting