Last night, it looked like the El Portal fire that started Saturday afternoon in Yosemite could reach the park's famous Giant Sequoia grove. This morning, the AP reports, the sequoias are no longer immediately threatened by the fire, thanks to the work of firefighting crews. Five other fires were also burning in designated wilderness areas of Yosemite; four of them covered two acres or less. started by lightning strikes. The El Portal fire, by contrast, covers more than 3,500 acres, and, as of Wednesday morning, was 34 percent contained.
On the West Coast, from California to Canada, extraordinary wildfire seasons are becoming more common. As High Country News reports, the total acreage burned in Canada’s Northwest Territories this year is six times higher than the 25-year average. The trees that are burning up there are part of the Boreal forest—vastly different from Yosemite’s trees—and the stakes go beyond even the 3,000 year old sequoias of Yosimite.
The ancient, stunted boreal forests that ring the Arctic Circle contain 30 percent of the world's land-based carbon, and when they burn, that carbon is released into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming...
...most emissions from boreal fires don’t come from the trees at all – they’re released from the tundra-like peat that makes up the forest floor. The ground literally burns. A study conducted in Indonesia suggests that carbon released from peat fires can equal up to 40 percent of that emitted by global fossil fuels – and making matters worse is that soot from far-northern fires, like those in the Northwest Territories, can darken Arctic ice, making it melt faster.
While wildfires are unpredictable, one thing is certain: if conditions stay the way they are, we’ll keep seeing fires well into the future.