Low Intensity of Yosemite Wildfire May Ultimately Prove Beneficial to Sequoias

The Grizzly Giant is covered in smoke
Grisley Giant in Yosemite National Park Mariposa Grove is covered in Washington smoke. REUTERS / Tracy Barbutes

A fire at California’s Yosemite National Park could benefit some of the world’s oldest sequoia by releasing seeds from the forest floor and clearing debris, preventing a massive fire that could destroy many large trees, an official said Tuesday.

The blaze started on Thursday in the park’s Mariposa Grove, the largest tree in the world, with more than 500 mature giants. The trees have been affected by lightning, but they have been around for thousands of years.

A low-intensity fire called the Washington Fire may have killed small squirrels growing up in the southern part of the group, said Stanley Berkovits, a spokesman for the fire brigade.

But if left unchecked, it burned debris and dead trees that were over 200 feet[200 m]tall and could burn up to 3,000 years old.

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“It was definitely important,” Berkovitz said of the Washington incident. “With the right amount of fire, it’s very healthy.”

For years, Washington’s fire extinguished the fire and produced enough heat to open the cones without burning the thick bark of Sequoia. In the process, the wood is enriched with nitrogen from burnt wood.

Yosemite officials have been using fire extinguishers to disperse oil spills caused by more than a century of firefighting.

He said the Washington fire did not start naturally and the cause was under investigation.

By Tuesday morning, 22 percent of the fire had been contained, burning 3,221 hectares of land, according to the Invasive Disaster Information System.

While Mariposa Grove is closed to visitors, the rest of the park is open.

California’s deforested forests, combined with climate change, have created eight major wildfires in state history since 2017, according to the California Department of Forest Conservation.

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