Earth’s largest trees were consumed by fires in Sequoia National Park and surrounding Sequoia National Forest. More than a third of the groves in California were affected, with an estimated 2,261 to 3,637 sequoias destroyed.
Last year, 7,500 to 10,400 giant sequoias were lost. Added with this years’ total, that brings the losses to 13% to 19% of the trees, which are native to 70 groves along the western side of the Sierra Nevada range.
The parks have been the setting for numerous film and television projects, and are a large driver of the tourist economy in the region.
The sequoias can stand up to most fires, but the recent blazes were so intense that they burned hot enough and high enough to break the trees. Officials claimed global warming created hotter droughts and thick undergrowth fueled flames.
“The sobering reality is that we have seen another huge loss within a finite population of these iconic trees that are irreplaceable in many lifetimes,” said Clay Jordan, superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “As spectacular as these trees are we really can’t take them for granted. To ensure that they’re around for our kids and grandkids and great grandkids, some action is necessary.”
California has experienced its largest fires in the past five years. Last year set a record for most acreage burned and this year, so far, is running second to that total.
Steps were taken to protect some of the biggest trees. The General Sherman tree, considered the largest living thing on earth, and others were wrapped in foil blankets. Fire retardant was also dropped on the tree canopies. Firefighters also watered trunks and raked away flammable matter. That saved the park’s Giant Forest, but measures couldn’t match that effort elsewhere.