Washburn fire threatens sequoias in Yosemite National Park

A 1,500-acre wildfire in Yosemite National Park threatens a grove of hundreds of giant sequoia trees, including centuries-old trees.

The fire, now in its fourth day and feeding on trees and brush, is active in Mariposa Grove, the largest and most famous of the park’s three giant sequoia clusters. The forest contains some of the longest-lived and tallest trees in the world, including the wood. It was called a grizzly giant which is more than 200 feet high.

Yosemite fire information spokeswoman Nancy Phillippe said the fire was zero percent contained and there was no estimate yet on damage to the sequoia trees.

Yuli Gotsev, marketing manager for Redwoods in Yosemite, which manages about 120 vacation rentals in the park, said the company evacuated dozens of guests and staff from Wawona Friday afternoon after receiving an evacuation order from authorities.

Although the winds pushed the fire away from the public, he said he saw smoke rising from a distance. “This is not our first fire,” he said. “We have a kind of reflex that we’ve developed over the years.”

About 10 helicopters and more than 360 firefighters were involved in extinguishing the fire.

The causes of the fire are being investigated. Wildfires are increasing in size and severity in the western United States. Experts say that climate change increases the risk of forest fires.

Wawona Road is closed from the park’s south entrance to Henness Ridge Road, and Mariposa Grove is closed until further notice. All other areas of the park are open, the Park Service said.

Emergency responders “proactively protect” giant trees by removing fuels such as dead trees and using sprinkler systems to increase ground moisture. The Yosemite Fire Department reported on Sunday. Firefighters also used bulldozers to clear vegetation that was feeding the wildfire, the Associated Press reported.

With thick fibrous bark that acts as insulation and towering branches that can sometimes escape the flames, sequoias are adapted to survive less intense fires. But in recent years, wildfires have become more destructive to the giant sequoia trees that grow on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the National Park Service said.

Between 2015 and 2021, more than 85 percent of all giant sequoia stands across the Sierra Nevada burned in wildfires, compared to 25 percent in the previous century, according to the Park Service.

Over the weekend, smoke obscured some of Yosemite’s most stunning views.

On Saturday, a guide showed a mock-up of the topography at the popular roadside Tunnel View, 20 miles north of Wawona, and told a group of visitors that this is what they would have seen in front of them if they hadn’t been there. fire. The mountains in the front were visible, but the farthest ones were hidden by fog.

Even beyond the perimeter of the park, there was thick smoke on the horizon.

“It’s a new normal that everybody’s getting used to,” said Jenna Boozer Yip, who lives in Oakhurst, about 18 miles south of the fire Sunday.

He said many have moved away, disillusioned by California’s brutal fire season. But, he added, “People who remain are relieved to know they have to evacuate.”

Livia Albeck-Ripka contributed to the report.

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