Story at a glance
- The Paradise and Colony fires have burned through a combined 5,861 acres as of Wednesday.
- The growing fires prompted the closure of Sequoia National Park, home to thousands of giant sequoia trees.
- “There’s no imminent threat to Giant Forest but that is a potential,” officials said.
A pair of growing wildfires burning in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains is posing a threat to some of the Earth’s tallest and oldest trees.
The Paradise fire and Colony fire were sparked by lightning last week in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and have burned through 5,861 acres as of Wednesday, prompting the shutdown of Sequoia National Park, home to thousands of giant sequoia trees.
Fire crews have been using aircraft to douse the flames with water and retardant, but the fires have been difficult to contain as they’re burning in steep, dense terrain that has prevented ground operations.
Park employees were evacuated after the Paradise Fire crossed the Generals Highway Monday night, and all facilities and services in the Sequoia National park were closed. Kings Canyon National Park is currently open.
The fires were projected to head in the direction of the Giant Forest at the heart of the park where the colossal sequoia trees stand, according to The Associated Press (AP).
The grove contains the General Sherman Tree, which is the largest living tree in the world at about 2,100 years old.
“There’s no imminent threat to Giant Forest but that is a potential,” Mark Ruggiero, fire information for the two national parks, told the AP.
Officials estimated the closest flames were approximately a mile from the Giant Forest.
The giant sequoias are designed to weather and thrive in typical wildfire conditions, as their thick bark and high branches protect them from flames. They even depend on the fires as their cones release seeds when they are exposed to high temperatures.
But more intense fires that have plagued California forests in recent years due to climate change could take their toll on the enormous sequoias.
An unprecedented number of giant sequoias have been killed in higher severity fires since 2015.
Two thirds of giant sequoia grove acreage across the Sierra Nevada burned between 2015 and 2020 compared to a quarter in the previous century, according to the National Park Service. Last year’s Castle fire killed between 7,000 and 11,000 of the large trees.
READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA