Wildfire Burns in Yosemite National Park, Threatening Giant Sequoia Trees

The Washburn Fire has scorched more than 2,000 acres since it was first reported on Thursday

Trees on fire with smoke and flames
Smoke and flames rise as the forest burns at Yosemite National Park in California on July 10, 2022. Neal Waters / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A wildfire has burned more than 2,000 acres of forest in Yosemite National Park, threatening the famed giant sequoias in the park’s Mariposa Grove. About 500 mature sequoias grow in the grove, some more than 2,000 years old and towering over 200 feet tall. So far, none of them have suffered significant damage, per CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe, Amanda Watts and Dakin Andone. 

“The fire is burning in difficult terrain with continuous heavy dead and down fuels in and around the fire,” per an incident update from July 10. “Tree mortality from 2013-2015 has left significant dead standing and dead fallen fuels. This also presents significant safety hazards to firefighters.” 

Mariposa Grove has a long history of prescribed burns, per the incident update, which has helped reduce the impacts of high-severity fires in that area. Crews have cleared dead trees, logs and undergrowth from around the trees, leaving a "doughnut hole," fire incident public information officer Robbie Johnson explains to CNN. 

“It's safe around it,” she tells the publication. “In fact one ecologist said he was pleased with the way the sequoias are being protected." 

The Grizzly Giant, a massive 209-foot-tall sequoia and “arguably one of the most famous trees on Earth,” is protected by a sprinkler system, a firefighter says in a video posted by Yosemite Fire and Aviation.

"We're trying to give it some preventative first aid really, and make sure that if the fire comes over here, that this tree is protected — that is, to cool flames and to increase the relative humidity and decrease the fire behavior around this tree,'' he says. "We really don't want to leave this one to chance, because this really is such an iconic tree."

Fire crews have also wrapped the Galen Clark cabin—named after the conservationist and Yosemite Guardian—in foil to protect it from flames, per CNN. 

About 1,600 people were ordered to leave from a nearby community, campground and hotel, writes the Guardian’s Ramon Antonio Vargas. The national park's southern Wawona area and Mariposa Grove are closed to visitors, but the rest of the park remains open. Per CNN, lines at the park's other entrances are longer than usual as a result, and the smoke could affect air quality as far away as San Francisco.

Climate change has contributed to severe droughts across the world, which increase the risk of wildfire. Portugal is currently battling wildfires across parts of the country; temperatures are expected to reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit this week. Italy is experiencing its worst drought in 70 years, and Texas is facing record-high temperatures

Wildfires burned more than 85 percent of giant sequoia grove acreage across the Sierra Nevada between 2015 and 2021, compared to only a quarter in the century before. The cause of the current fire in Yosemite is currently under investigation.

“Climate change is one of the most significant threats our national parks face,” wrote Stephanie Kodish, the senior director and counsel for the Clean Air and Climate Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), in a June blog post. “Every single one of our national parks is suffering from the effects of climate change, from record breaking wildfires and droughts to rising sea levels and the destruction of cultural resources.” 

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