California firefighters scramble to protect sequoia groves
Flames on Sunday reached a grove of sequoia trees in the US state of California as firefighters battled to keep fire from driving further into another grove, where the base of the world’s largest tree has been wrapped in protective foil. Fire officials warned that hot, dry weather and stronger winds were contributing to “critical fire conditions” in the area of the KNP Complex, two lightning-sparked blazes that merged on the western side of Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada. The fire reached Long Meadow Grove, where the Trail of 100 Giant Sequoias is a national monument. Fire officials haven’t yet been able to determine how much damage was done to the groves, which are in remote and hard-to-reach areas. However, an Associated Press photographer saw active flames burning up a trunk, with the forest floor ablaze below. The fires forced the evacuation of the park last week, along with parts of Three Rivers, a foothill town of about 2,500 people. Firefighters using bulldozers expanded a line between the fire and the community, fire spokesperson Rebecca Paterson said Sunday. More than 34 square miles (88 square kilometers) of forest land have been blackened. The National Park Service said Friday that fire had reached the westernmost tip of the Giant Forest, where it scorched a grouping of sequoias known as the “Four Guardsmen” that mark the entrance to the grove of 2,000 sequoias. Since then crews have managed to keep the flames from encroaching further into the area. Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to grow. But the extraordinary intensity of fires - fueled by climate change - can overwhelm the trees.