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California’s Firefighters Save Legendary Sequoias -- For Now

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California’s Firefighters Save Legendary Sequoias -- For Now
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(Bloomberg) -- California’s firefighters are in a race to save the state’s towering sequoia trees from catching flame after a wildfire pushed by dry, gusting winds burned to the edge of the famed Giant Forest grove. So far, they’ve been successful, but danger still looms.

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The lightning-sparked KNP Complex Fire, which erupted in the Sierra Nevada foothills on Sept. 10, has now reached the western and southern borders of the grove, where some of the massive trees have lasted more than 2,000 years. Although wind-blown embers have touched off spot fires within the grove itself, firefighters have quickly stopped their growth.

“We’re looking pretty good for the Giant Forest, and there is no real threat right now in terms of those trees,” said Mark Garrett, public information officer for the firefighting effort.

Although the Giant Forest has so far been spared, another blaze to the south -- the Windy Fire -- has burned into one grove of sequoias and is threatening others. Officials have not yet been able to assess the damage, according to an update on the incident’s webpage. And dry winds forecast across Northern California in the next few days also heighten the risk of blazes spreading.

Protective Measures

The ancient Giant Forest within Sequoia National Park, home to some of the world’s largest trees, is considered such a treasure that firefighters wrapped some of the tree trunks in protective foil as the flames approached. More importantly, park officials have for decades cleared out undergrowth near the sequoias to remove fuel for wildfires. If a blaze does break out in the grove, the flames won’t grow tall enough to reach the crown of the trees, Garrett said.

“The ‘ladder fuels’ are just not there,” he said. “When fire does get into the Giant Forest, the behavior is much lower than in the surrounding areas that haven’t been treated.”

Hot, windy weather this week has threatened to accelerate fires across California, and led utility PG&E Corp. to designate about 2,500 homes and businesses for power cuts to prevent more blazes from breaking out as electricity lines sway in the wind. Red flag fire warnings, issued when humidity drops and winds rise, are in place from just south of Lake Shasta through the Sacramento Valley and down the spine of the Sierras until at least Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.

A deepening drought has left the region’s forests primed to burn, with more than 2.3 million acres charred this year. The blazes have largely destroyed several small mountain towns and forced the temporary evacuation of South Lake Tahoe, a popular family vacation spot.

The KNP Complex had burned about 24,000 acres by Monday afternoon, Garrett said. More than 800 firefighters are working to contain it.

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