YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — Largest the grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park was closed on Friday and hundreds of people were ordered to evacuate nearby as a wildfire burning through dense forest became the latest in years to threaten the world’s tallest trees.
A team was dispatched to Mariposa Grove to wrap some of the massive trunks in fire-resistant aluminum foil to protect them when the blaze got out of control, said Nancy Phillipe, a spokesperson for the Yosemite fire news. .
More than 500 mature redwoods were threatened, but no serious damage was reported to named trees, such as the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant.
The cause of the fire was under investigation and the rest of the park remained open as nearly 300 firefighters tried to control the flames using two water-dropping helicopters and a truck tanker spilling flame retardant, Phillipe said.
The giant sequoias, native to only about 70 groves spread along the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, were once considered impervious to flames but have become increasingly vulnerable as the blazes of forest are fed by an accumulation of undergrowth after a century of fire suppression and drought exacerbated by climate change have become more intense and destructive.
Lightning-triggered wildfires over the past two years have killed up to a fifth of an estimated 75,000 tall redwood treeswhich are the largest trees by volume.
There was no obvious natural spark for the fire that broke out next to the park’s Washburn Trail on Thursday, Phillipe said. Smoke was reported from visitors walking through the grove, which reopened in 2018 after a $40 million renovation that took three years.
The grove, which is inside the south entrance to the park, was evacuated and no one was injured.
The fire had spread to 466 acres (188 hectares) by Friday evening, authorities said.
Evacuation orders were issued Friday for the grove as well as the nearby community of Wawona — which is surrounded by the park — and Wawona Campground, where about 600 to 700 people were staying at a campground, cabins and a historic hotel.
A severe windstorm tore through the grove a year and a half ago and toppled 15 giant sequoias, along with countless other trees.
Downed trees, along with a large number of bark beetle-killed pines, provided ample fuel for the flames, but winds were calm Friday and the fire was not spreading quickly.
The park has used prescribed burns to clear the brush around the redwoods, which helps protect them if the flames spread further into the grove.
“When unwanted fires hit these areas, it tends to slow the rate of spread and helps us gain some control,” Phillipe said.
In the Sierra foothills, 80 miles (128 kilometers) northwest of the Yosemite Fire, some evacuation orders were lifted as containment increased to 70% on the Electra Fire that had been burning 7 square miles (18 square kilometers).
The fire broke out near Jackson on Monday and temporarily forced about 100 people celebrating the July 4 holiday along a river to seek shelter at a Pacific Gas & Electric Co facility.