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California wildfires: Firefighters wrap blanket around world’s oldest tree

·3-min read
Firefighters wrap the world’s oldest tree, named General Sherman, to protect it from fire. The tree is estimated to be around 2,300 to 2,700 years old (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE/AFP via Ge)
Firefighters wrap the world’s oldest tree, named General Sherman, to protect it from fire. The tree is estimated to be around 2,300 to 2,700 years old (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE/AFP via Ge)

Firefighters have wrapped the world’s oldest tree in a fire-resistant blanket as ferocious wildfires burn in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Crews are desperately trying to save the Giant Forest, a grove of 2,000 gigantic ancient sequoias, as fires rage on at the Sequoia National Park.

The world’s oldest tree, dubbed General Sherman, is among several sequoias to be wrapped in the protective material, fire spokesperson Rebecca Paterson said.

Standing as tall as a high rise, General Sherman towers 275ft and has a circumference of 103 ft at ground level. It is thought to be around 2,300 to 2,700 years old.

The latest fires are the latest in a long summer of blazes that have scorched nearly 3,550 square miles in California, destroying hundreds of homes.

Buildings and the Giant Forest Museum have also been covered in the aluminum wrapping which can withstand intensive heat for short periods.

Federal officials say they have been using the material for several years throughout the western states to protect sensitive structures from flames.

Near Lake Tahoe, some homes that were wrapped in protective material survived a recent wildfire while others nearby were destroyed.

California firefighters wrap historic Sequoia National Park entrance sign with fire-proof blankets to protect them from huge blazes (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE/AFP via Ge)
California firefighters wrap historic Sequoia National Park entrance sign with fire-proof blankets to protect them from huge blazes (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE/AFP via Ge)

The Colony Fire is one of two blazes caused by lightning at the national park and is expected to reach the Giant Forest within days.

However, the fire did not grow significantly on Thursday when a layer of smoke reduced its spread.

“Hopefully, the Giant Forest will emerge from this unscathed,” Ms Paterson said.

Last year, a wildfire killed thousands of sequoias which were thousands of years old.

The General Sherman Tree is the largest in the world by volume, at 52,508 cubic feet, according to the National Park Service.

Ms Paterson said a “robust fire history of prescribed fire in that area is a reason for optimism”.

A helicopter drops water on the fire burning in Sequoia National Park in California (AP)
A helicopter drops water on the fire burning in Sequoia National Park in California (AP)

The technique sees fires deliberately lit to remove other types of trees and vegetation that would otherwise feed wildfires.

Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to grow.

But the extraordinary intensity of fires, fuelled by climate change, can overwhelm the trees.

Last year, the Castle Fire killed what studies estimate were 7,500 to 10,600 large sequoias, according to the National Park Service.

A historic drought and heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West.

Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Firefighters travelled from Colorado to fight California wildfires (AP)
Firefighters travelled from Colorado to fight California wildfires (AP)

The fires forced the evacuation of the park this week, and parts of the town of Three Rivers, located outside the main entrance were also evacuated.

To the south, a fire on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Giant Sequoia National Monument grew significantly overnight to more than 6 square miles, and crews had no containment of it, a Sequoia National Forest statement said.

The Windy Fire, also at the park, has burned into part of the Peyrone Sequoia Grove in the national monument, and other groves were threatened.

Crews had limited ground access to the Colony Fire and the extreme steepness of the terrain around the Paradise Fire prevented it completely, requiring extensive aerial water and flame-retardant drops on both fires.

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