The World’s Largest Tree Might Go Up In Smoke
The largest measured tree in the world is a 275-foot (83.8 meter) sequoia known as General Sherman. Estimated at being 2,000 or 3,000 years old, the tree grows in the Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest, in the southern Sierra Nevada east of Visalia, California. It was one of a group of ancient sequoias that was this week wrapped in fire-proof blankets in a bid to protect them from the wildfires ripping across the Western U.S.
A Strategic Fire War to Save the Ancients
Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest hosts five of the world's largest trees, including the General Sherman. The National Park Service registers the tree at 275 feet (84 meters) high with a ground level circumference of 103 feet (31 meters), containing 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters). While gentler forest fires actually help sequoias reproduce, by causing the cones to open and release seeds, hotter blazes, like The Colony Fire, burn higher up the trunks and burn the cones. This happened last year when the Castle Fire killed an estimated “7,500 to 10,600 large sequoias”, according to the National Park Service.
The General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree by volume, is wrapped in a fireproof blanket on Thursday Sept. 16, 2021 at Sequoia National Park during the KNP Complex Fire. (Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks)
The Mercury News quotes Sequoia National Park’s resource manager, Christy Brigham, as saying “They [firefighters] are taking extraordinary measures to protect these trees.” A report on ABC News interviews a fire incident commander who said “We just really want to do everything we can to protect these 2,000- and 3,000-year-old trees.” He said firefighters cleared brush and strategically pre-positioned fire engines amidst the 2,000 ancient trees.
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Not Only is the World’s Largest Tree Under Threat, But Homes and Businesses Too
Several homes and governmental buildings, including the Giant Forest Museum, were covered in aluminum wrapping designed to withstand intensive heat for short periods of time. Federal officials say the material has been in service for several years throughout the U.S. For example, homes near Lake Tahoe were recently wrapped in the protective material during a wildfire, and while these homes survived, many others without the protective cover were completely destroyed.
Some residents completely wrapped their homes in fire-resistant material. (WSAV.com)
Hundreds of thousands of hectares (millions of acres) of California's forests have already burned this year in what is a much hotter than normal fire season. Last year, a wildfire killed thousands of sequoia trees in this same region and Daily Mail reports that some of these trees were “as tall as high-rises and thousands of years old.” So far, 500 fire fighting personnel have actively fought the so-called “Paradise” and “Colony” fires. Together these two blazes have so far destroyed “9,365 acres of woodland since they erupted from lightning strikes on September 10,” according to Daily Mail.
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It’s Getting Real Hot State Side
Fire officials said the so-called Colony Fire is expected to reach the Giant Forest sequoia grove within days. However, fire spokeswoman Katy Hooper said the fire didn’t grow significantly larger last Thursday because a layer of thick smoke reduced the spread in the morning. While this particular fire will hopefully collapse before reaching the Giant Forest, in general, blazes are on the increase in the US.
According to the Insurance Investigation Association “in 2019 there were 50,477 wildfires compared with 58,083 wildfires in 2018." Furthermore, about 4.7 million acres were burned in 2019, while there were 8.8 million acres burned in 2018. Comparatively, about 8.8 million acres were burned in 2018 against 10 million in 2017.
California, like much of the west coast of America, gets most of its moisture in the fall and winter. During the summer the vegetation slowly dries out with warmer temperatures, serving as kindling for fires such as these. Then, all it takes is a spark.
Fire officials said the so-called Colony Fire is expected to reach the Giant Forest sequoia grove within days. (Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks)
By Ashley Cowie