Windy Fire has destroyed more than two dozen giant sequoias – and that’s just a first assessment
By Stéphanie Elam, CNN
(CNN) – The Windy Fire in California is wreaking havoc on redwoods in the Sequoia National Forest this week. Experts say the fire has killed at least 29 of the giant trees, which can live for thousands of years.
This assessment is only a first assessment.
Garrett Dickman, a wildfire botanist at Yosemite National Park, was tasked with preparing the trees as the wildfire encroaches on the redwood groves, then working to cool the trees after the fire passed. Part of his job is to assess the trees to see how they behaved after the flames have moved away.
While the assessment is only just beginning, there are already serious concerns. The Long Meadow Grove center ran well, thanks to the work of fire preparedness crews, but moving away from that area, Dickman counted 29 redwoods that were “just incinerated” by the blaze.
“There were four that had burned so hard they fell,” Dickman said, adding that one tree had burned so badly that it was almost reduced to a simple tree outline on the ground.
“The majority of the grove is going to survive,” Dickman said, “but there are parts that have burned so hot and these trees won’t make it.”
Elsewhere in the forest, Dickman saw even more devastation. At Starvation Creek Grove, which he says has no modern fire history, he said he saw only “a few trees survived.”
“It was one of the groves where we had a few hours of prep work and these trees around which we did the emergency preparedness work, according to the photo, they are the ones who survived and all the others – it didn’t. It looks promising, “Dickman said, adding that he planned to assess the grove in the next few days.
Only found in the Sierra Nevada in California, giant sequoias are able to live over 3,000 years and climb to over 200 feet tall. But 10-14% of the world’s giant sequoias were lost in the 2020 castle fire alone.
As wildfires continue to burn longer and hotter amid a relentless drought, there are fears that this year’s fires could do much more damage. The drought made the trees and brush dry and brittle – easy to walk through for forest fires.
“These fuels are on the ground and the fuel is dry,” Dickman explained. “You can buy a two-by-four at Home Depot and it has more water than the trees on the ground. When they burn, it is 100% consumption. “
As tree assessment continues, fire fighting continues. The US Forest Service is setting up a task force to go into the redwood groves and scrape around the base of the trees, and to put out the fire that is still burning in some of the tree root systems. For example, a few smoke bombs, specially trained firefighters, scale the iconic Bench Tree in the Trail of 100 Giants to attack a fire in the canopy of a nearby tree.
“They’re going to climb that tree … with one hose and squirt on the other tree and try to put that thing out,” said Nathan Judy, head of public affairs for the US Forest Service.
As for the potential loss of redwoods, Dickman says he’s not yet sure whether this fire season will end up being as devastating as last year for giant trees.
“After the castle burns down, I think we need to prepare for something that could be a lot worse,” Dickman said, noting that some of the groves will see new growth. “There is a difference between a 2,000 year old tree and a 15 year old tree, like a landscape plant and the other like a spiritual experience.”
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