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Tuesday, September 27, 2022
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Wildfire Threatens Ancient Sequoias in Yosemite


A firefighter protects a sequoia as the Washburn Fire burns in Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park, California | Image by Noah Berger

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The Washburn fire in the Mariposa Grove in northern California threatens the lives of trees that have seen centuries come and millennia go.

The wildfire that started July 7 had grown by Wednesday to cover 3,772 acres and was just 17% contained.

Firefighters installed a sprinkler system on Monday to combat the flames. By that night, the firefighters had successfully contained 25% of the wildfire on the Sierra Nevada’s western flank. However, the fire is still a threat to the nearby area of Wawona as temperatures continue to rise.

Residents of the small community within the park were under a mandatory evacuation order as the fire threatened various structures and residences.

The South entrance of Yosemite Park is closed to visitors, but as of Monday, the rest of the park was open. None of the named trees — like the 3000-year-old, 209-foot-tall Grizzly Giant, the grove’s second-tallest sequoia — have suffered any severe damage.

Stanley Bercovitz, a U.S Forest Service Spokesman, said the 4-foot sprinklers are doing a lot of good work to ensure the fire does not damage the forest. The fire is being fueled by the grove’s build-up of undergrowth, which firefighters are also working to remove.

Visitors witnessed thick smoke and ash raining down on Sunday. The smoke may even affect people in areas as far south as San Francisco.

On Monday, Marc Peebles, a fire information officer, said, “Fortunately, there have not been any erratic winds that have affected fire behavior. We have the high pressure over the top of the fire, which is causing the increase in temperatures. However, we do get a decent amount of humidity at night, which moderates fire behavior, which allows our night shift firefighters to do good work.”

In the past two years, wildfires have destroyed a fifth of the estimated 75,000 giant sequoias, which have been protected since President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation in 1864.      

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