(Yosemite National Park, Calif.) A wildfire threatening Yosemite National Park’s largest grove of giant sequoias more than doubled in size in a day, and firefighters were working in difficult terrain Sunday to protect the iconic trees, as the United States faces another very active year for fires.
Campers and residents near the blaze were evacuated, but the rest of the sprawling California park remained open, though thick smoke obscured scenic views and created an unhealthy air quality.
“Today we have never seen so much smoke,” said Nancy Phillipe, spokeswoman for the Yosemite Fire Information Service, on Sunday.
More than 500 mature redwoods are threatened in the famed Mariposa Grove, but no serious damage has been reported to any named trees, including the 3,000-year-old Giant Grizzly Bear.
A sprinkler system installed in the grove helped keep the tree trunks moist and officials hoped the steady stream of water and previous prescribed burns would be enough to keep the flames at bay, Ms.me Phillip.
The cause of the Washburn fire is under investigation. By Sunday morning, it had reached an area of nearly 6.7 km2without having been circumscribed.
Beyond the trees, the community of Wawona was under threat, with residents ordered to leave late Friday. In addition to residents, approximately 600 to 700 people who were staying at the Wawona campground in tents, cabins and a historic hotel were ordered to leave.
The giant sequoias, which are found in only about 70 groves spread along the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada range, were once considered impervious to flames but have become increasingly vulnerable as the fires have of forest have become more intense and destructive.
Lightning-triggered wildfires over the past two years have killed up to a fifth of the 75,000 tall redwood trees in the national park, which is the size of the state of Rhode Island.