Wildfire Threatens Yosemite's Iconic Giant Sequoias

Out-of-control blaze burns near Mariposa Grove in national park
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 10, 2022 8:45 AM CDT
Wildfire Threatens Yosemite's Iconic Giant Sequoias
The Washburn Fire burns in Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Friday, July 8, 2022.   (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

(Newser) – The largest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park is under threat by a growing wildfire. More than 500 of the iconic trees were threatened in the Mariposa Grove, though as of Saturday there were no reports of severe damage to any named trees, including the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant, per the AP. Some of the massive trunks were wrapped in fire-resistant foil for protection as the blaze burned out of control. Beyond the trees, the small community of Wawona, which is surrounded by park and a campground, was under threat, with people ordered to leave their homes and campsites on Friday night.

The giant sequoias, native in only about 70 groves spread along the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada range, were once considered impervious to flames but have become increasingly vulnerable as wildfires—fueled by a buildup of undergrowth from a century of fire suppression, as well as drought exacerbated by climate change—have become more intense and destructive. The fire was proving difficult to contain, with firefighters throwing “every tactic imaginable" at it, said Nancy Phillipe, a Yosemite spokesperson. That included air drops of fire retardant as well as the planned use of bulldozers to create fire lines, a tactic rarely used in a wilderness setting like Yosemite.

The cause of the fire was under investigation. Lightning-sparked wildfires over the past two years have killed up to a fifth of the estimated 75,000 large sequoias, which are the biggest trees by volume. However, there was no obvious natural spark for the fire that broke out Thursday next to the park’s Washburn Trail, Phillipe said. Smoke was reported by visitors walking in the grove that reopened in 2018 after a $40 million renovation that took three years. The fire had grown to about 1.9 square miles by Saturday evening.

(Read more Yosemite National Park stories.)

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