A wildfire at the edges of Sequoia National Park is threatening a grove of the world’s largest and oldest trees, including General Sherman, the largest of the sequoias. To protect the ancient trees, wildland firefighters blanketed the base of the trees in a fire-resistant aluminum wrap that has also been used to protect homes, historic cabins and other structures.
Firefighters raced to protect the massive trees last week when they realized a change in the weather was driving the Sierra Nevada’s KNP Complex fire to merge into one, pushing into an area of the sequoia grove known as Giant Forest.
Four trees, the Four Guardsmen, stand sentinel at the entrance to the forest, which is also home to General Sherman.
The two fires that comprise the #KNPComplex merged yesterday and will be considered one fire going forward. The new acreage is 17,857. Follow updates at https://t.co/VpxXBv19c4 pic.twitter.com/PSW3VZWKpT
— Sequoia & Kings Cyn (@SequoiaKingsNPS) September 18, 2021
Firefighters wrapped the bottom of the Four Guardsmen, General Sherman and other endangered giants in aluminum blankets to shield them from the worst of the flames. The Associated Press reported that the fire-resistant aluminum wrap is designed to protect from high heat for short periods of time, and that in the recent fire near Lake Tahoe, some wrapped homes survived while other nearby homes burned.
The National Park Service estimates that the General Sherman tree is 2,200 years old. At 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter at its base, General Sherman is the largest known tree in the world by volume — 52,508 cubic feet.
Sequoias are known for their historic resistance to fire, and they even rely on occasional fire to open their cones, release seeds and clear some space on the forest floor for a young sequoia to grow and thrive, according to the NPS.
But climate change has created a situation in which wildfires can burn hotter and longer than they used to, putting the once-resistant sequoias at risk.
Giant sequoias only grow in one place in the world, on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. Only 70 groves of the majestic trees remain, the Los Angeles Times reported, and last year’s Castle fire burned through parts of 20 of those groves with such high intensity that instead of heating the cones enough to release the seeds, the fire destroyed them.
Thousands of the giants, some as old as the General Sherman tree, were killed in last year’s historic wildfires, AP reports.