The Windy Fire is raging across California’s famed sequoia land, killing 44 of the long-lived monarchs according to early estimates.
Now, a last-ditch effort is underway to save the towering trees from a wildfire that has scorched more than 150 square miles of the Sequoia National Forest, destroying over a dozen groves, including the world-famous Trail of 100 Giants.
Crews are scaling the 200-foot-tall behemoths, showering nearby trees’ burning crowns with water, coating their gigantic trunks in fire-resistant wrap, and dumping high-tech gel from the sky.
Despite their heroic efforts, the team has only been able to save a few trees in the most severely damaged groves, some of which haven’t seen fire in over a century. While sequoias require fire in order to reproduce and thrive, high-intensity fires can spread to their crowns and kill them.
“We weren’t doing this five years ago because we didn’t have to. There is no plan in place to save gigantic sequoia trees from these massive, high-intensity fires “Yosemite National Park botanist Garrett Dickman agreed. “Not to denigrate the firefighters’ bravery, but we’re simply saving a few individual trees when we should be thinking of the entire population.”
Active forest management and prescribed fire – highly controlled burns carried out and overseen by professionals – are the best ways to do this, according to Dickman. Windy Fire has caused limited damage in actively managed orchards, according to him.
The Giant Forest Grove and General Sherman, the world’s largest tree by volume, were saved from the KNP Complex thanks to decades of prescribed burning in Sequoia National Park to the north. On Sept. 9, both the KNP and Windy fires were started by lightning.