An out-of-control California wildfire has breached the Giant Forest, the world’s largest giant sequoia grove and home to the Earth’s largest tree, General Sherman.
The Colony and Paradise fires, which comprise the KNP Complex, merged late Friday and grew to more than 17,000 acres. The blaze, which has shuttered the world-famous Sequoia National Park, remains fully uncontained.
The grove, usually bustling and packed with tourists during the waning summer season, was instead filled with green Forest Service engines and yellow hose as the smoky sky above the towering monarchs glowed apocalyptic orange.
Firefighters have spent the past week preparing the Giant Forest for the impending flames. Vegetation in and around the grove was cleared while some trees – including General Sherman – were wrapped at the base in fire-resistant aluminum.
The KNP Complex reached a small area of the Giant Forest on Friday, in an area known as the Four Guardsman, where trees “had been thoroughly prepped in recent days,” incident commanders reported.
The flames have not reached General Sherman. Hotshot crews on the ground are working to determine whether it is safe to send more firefighters to the area.
While low- and moderate-intensity fires are beneficial to giant sequoia, massive blazes such as the KNP Complex can kill them. Last year’s Castle Fire burned through an area just south of the KNP Complex and killed 10% to 14% of the world’s monarch sequoias – up to 10,600 trees.
Lightning ignited the KNP Complex during a Sept. 9 thunderstorm that swept across California, also sparking the Windy Fire to the south. The 12,000-acre Windy Fire has burned through at least one sequoia grove and is threatening others near the footprint of the Castle Fire.
Firefighters are preparing for the worst with a red flag warning – indicating a high wildfire risk – set to takes effect across the region beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“Winds are expected to pick up in and around the fire area. Crews are preparing for changes and possible significant increases in fire activity,” the incident commander’s report stated.
Kings Canyon National Park,, connected to Sequoia National Park, remains open despite “significant air quality impacts.” The road between the parks is closed. The air in Three Rivers and other communities on the San Joaquin Valley floor has been hazardous to breathe, air monitors reported.
More than 400 firefighters from numerous local, state and federal agencies are battling the blaze that threatens one of the world’s only habitats for the giant sequoia.
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