(Trends Wide) — A pair of wildfires burning in California’s parched Sierra Nevada mountains forced the closure of much of Sequoia National Park, including its most prized areas, where some of the largest trees on the planet are found.
Although firefighters are “aggressively targeting” the fires to help douse them, the flames can affect the park’s infrastructure and resources, according to the national park’s website.
Giant sequoias, which can reach 90 meters in height, have already been affected by fires in the state in recent years: “Two-thirds of the entire area of giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada have been burned in forest fires between 2015 and 2020, “said the National Park Service.
The redwoods that died in last year’s Castillo fire could have been hundreds to 3,000 years old, the service added.
Threats to Sequoia National Park: Colony and Paradise Fires
The park is threatened by the KNP Complex fire, which started by lightning last week and includes the Colony and Paradise fires. According to the National Forest Fire Coordination Group, it has burned nearly 6,000 acres (about 2,500 hectares) within the park. No information is available on the containment of the fire.
The Paradise fire spiraled out of control Monday night, traversing the Generals Highway and the middle fork of the Kaweah River, causing the evacuation of park employees.
All the facilities and services of the Sequoia National Park, including the campings, visitor centers and park stores are closed until the threat of the fire lessens, according to the park administration.
“Due to forest fire activity in the area, we are closing all entry points to the Secouyas National Park to backpackers and day trippers. All permit reservation holders will be refunded the full amount” , add an alert on the park’s website.
“Beginning September 12, backpackers will not be able to obtain permits to stay overnight in wilderness areas that start from the Mineral King Valley, the Lodgepole or Giant Forest area, or from Ash Mountain (the foothills).”
Other areas of the natural park are open, he said, but are “heavily affected” by smoke and dangerous air quality.
Destruction of redwoods by last year’s fire
Redwoods only grow naturally on the western slopes of the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range. Between 7,500 and 10,600 mature giant sequoias were destroyed by last year’s fire, according to a report from the National Park Service.
That amounts to 10-14% of the entire world population of mature redwoods.
Although trees depend on fire to open their cones and release seeds to reproduce, those fires historically burned naturally at lower temperatures, killing small trees and thinning the forest.
But fire suppression efforts have allowed the forest to become denser, which, combined with a years-long drought, has allowed many of those trees to die. That has created more fuels that burn faster and hotter than previous fires.
“The unprecedented number of giant sequoias lost to fire last year is a call to action,” Clay Jordan, the superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said in a statement in July.
“We know that climate change is increasing the duration and severity of our fire seasons due to rising temperatures and drought. To combat these new threats to our forests, we must unite all organisms. Actions that are good to protect our forests are also good for protecting our communities. ”