Yosemite's giant sequoias were spared the flames

Yosemite's giant sequoias have been spared by the flames


A massive fire at California's prestigious Yosemite Park last week has spared its iconic giant sequoias, authorities said. 

The so-called “Washburn Fire” broke out on July 7 for an as yet undetermined reason and quickly reached the Mariposa Grove area, one of the most popular places in the park because it has hundreds of redwoods among the largest in the world.

The protective measures implemented by several hundred firefighters bore fruit, and the venerable trees were no longer immediately threatened by Thursday morning.

“I did not see a single tree that was dead or that was not going to survive,” Yosemite National Park ecologist Garrett Dickman, who has surveyed Mariposa Grove every day since the fire began, told NBC television Wednesday night.

In particular, a team of firefighters permanently hosed down the area surrounding the “Grizzly Giant” – the most famous and spectacular giant sequoia in the park with its 64 m height – to prevent the flames from reaching it.

In addition to these precautions, preventive measures have been taken on a regular basis in recent years, such as controlled fire starts to clear brush and reduce the risk of violent fires.

“I think the most important effort has been to organize fires in the Mariposa Grove since the 1970s. Fifty years of reducing fuels is what will ultimately protect the trees” , underlined Mr. Dickman.

Practiced in an ancestral way by the Native American tribes of the region, the controlled fires are intended to clear up the undergrowth by consuming brush and dead trunks fallen on the ground. These fuels can greatly increase the intensity of wildfires, especially in times of chronic drought such as the one currently affecting the American West.

“Almost every tree was lucky enough to be exposed to low-intensity fire […] The threat has almost completely disappeared,” Stanley Bercovitz, spokesman for the United States Forest Service, told AFP. States Forest Service).

“Until the fire is 100% contained, there is always a risk. But currently it's greatly reduced, and the fire is moving away from the redwoods,” he added.

The fire was heading Thursday towards the Sierra National Forest, further east .

As of Thursday morning, it was 23% contained and had covered nearly 1800 hectares of vegetation.

Low-intensity fires are usually not enough to harm giant sequoias because they are naturally adapted to these disasters with their spongy and thick bark and their first branches can grow thirty meters high, which puts them out of reach of the flames.

However, these redwoods need fires to reproduce: the heat of the flames pops like popcorn the fallen cones to release hundreds of seeds.