A rapidly spreading wildfire in California’s Yosemite National Park is threatening a grove of giant redwood trees, the world’s oldest.
The blaze grew from 250 acres to about 1,600 acres from Friday through Sunday, with timber and shrub terrain fueling the flames, officials said. The blaze was first reported by tourists on the Washburn Trail in the giant redwood Mariposalin on July 7, and more than 400 firefighters have been dispatched to try to contain the blaze.
Firefighters’ efforts include laying sprinkler systems in the grove to keep the trunks of more than 500 mature giant redwoods moist. Officials also want a steady spray of water to keep flames away from groves, which they have also previously protected with so-called prescribed burns, designed to remove material that could fuel fires.
As of Sunday, none of the grove’s named trees — including the 3,000-year-old grizzly giant — had been severely damaged. But officials said the areas where firefighters worked were difficult and prone to fires, especially because of the massive tree death in the three years starting in 2013.
Firefighters narrowly avoided a disaster on Sunday when debris from the blaze nearly hit the plane’s crew coordinating ground work. A spokesman for firefighters told Reuters that debris was swept up by winds swirling around the plume of smoke from the blaze.
Park managers ordered more than 1,600 visitors to leave nearby communities, campgrounds and hotels that were preparing for the peak of the summer tourist season. They closed the park’s south entrance due to the spread of smoke and soot from the fire point, but visitors can still use the west entrance to access some of its most popular attractions, including Yosemite Valley.
Investigators had not immediately determined the cause of the fire, and as of Monday morning, no injuries had been reported.
The blaze comes after six major wildfires in California’s Sierra Nevada have killed thousands of giant redwoods. In fact, wildfires in the region have burned 85 percent of giant redwood forests between 2015 and 2021, up from a quarter in the past 100 years, National Park Service officials said.
Experts also warn that the human-caused climate crisis is causing droughts, leaving redwoods under constant threat from wildfires.
Reuters and the Associated Press provided reporting