California's Giant Forest, Full of Sequoia Trees, Dodges Latest Wildfire Threats

The famed Sequoia trees of California's Giant Forest were left unharmed Tuesday despite a wildfire burning nearby on the western side of the Sierra Nevada for almost two weeks, the Associated Press reported. The KNP Complex, born from two separate lightning-ignited fires that later fused together, has spread across 39 square miles of land in the areas, fueled further as it burns other types of trees located in the mountain range.

Fire information officer Mark Garrett confirmed that the Sequoia trees hadn't been touched by the fire.

"As of right now we don't have any damage to any of our trees," Garrett said.

The Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park houses around 2,000 of the trees, including the General Sherman Tree, which is believed to be the largest in the world by volume, the AP reported. Garrett said that the complex did recently manage to breach the forest's perimeter close to a grouping of large trees named the Four Guardsmen, but crews had wrapped their bases in fire-resistant materials and raked away vegetation near the trees that could facilitate further spread.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Sequoia Trees Avoid Wildfire Destruction
The Giant Forest's sequoia trees managed to avoid destruction from a fire burning nearby for nearly two weeks. A firefighter hoses down hot spots around a sequoia tree in the Trail of 100 Giants of Sequoia National Forest, California, as the Windy Fire burns on September 20. Noah Berger/AP Photo

Firefighting crews monitored as what was described as a "low-intensity fire" passed through and made sure it did not affect the sequoias, he said.

For decades, Giant Forest has been subjected to prescribed fires that are carefully set and controlled to burn away vegetation that could otherwise become fuel for a fire like the KNP Complex and allow it to become established.

The next-closest sequoia grove is Redwood Canyon, but it is at least 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) away and the fire would have to travel up and down terrain to get there, Garrett said.

"But like Giant Forest, that one has also seen prescribed burn treatments for several decades since the late '60s so that grove is also well-equipped to transform a high-intensity fire into low-intensity fire," he said.

To the south, another forest fire in sequoia country was showing minimal movement.

The Windy Fire in the Giant Sequoia National Monument area of Sequoia National Forest and on the Tule River Indian Reservation covered more than 42 square miles (108 square kilometers) and was 5 percent contained.

"The fire behavior is not as extreme as it was a couple of days ago," said Thanh Nguyen, a fire information officer.

On the Trail of 100 Giants, one tree known as the "natural bench" sequoia because of the shape of its base was confirmed to have sustained some burning.

Several sequoia groves have been impacted by the Windy Fire but it's not clear whether any other sequoia trees have been burned.

Nguyen said fire can move through a grove by burning other types of trees and vegetation rather than sequoias and assessments will come later.

The largest trees on the Trail of 100 Giants are on average 220 feet (67 meters) tall, 20 feet (6.1 meters) in diameter and 1,500 years old, Nguyen said.

"Those trees are beloved," he said.

Firefighters have been hand-digging control lines and spraying water to protect the trees and have worked to protect several evacuated communities. The only structure lost so far was the Mule Peak fire lookout structure, which burned in the early stages of the fire even though it was wrapped in fire-resistant material.

More than 7,500 wildfires have scorched about 3,600 square miles (9,324 square kilometers) in California so far this year.

Nearly half of that land—1,505 square miles (3,898 square kilometers)—was burned by the Dixie Fire across five counties in the northern Sierra and southern Cascades region. It is the second-largest fire on record in California and was 90 percent contained after destroying 1,329 homes, businesses and other structures since July 13.

South of Lake Tahoe, the 342-square-mile (886-square-kilometer) Caldor Fire is three-quarters contained after destroying 800 homes and commercial properties. Highway 50, the main route between the San Francisco Bay Area and the south end of the alpine resort lake, reopened to the public on Tuesday for the first time in weeks.

Historic drought tied to climate change is making wildfires harder to fight. It has killed millions of trees in California alone. Scientists said climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Firefighter in Sequoia National Forest
Fire crews wrapped the bases of sequoia trees in California's Giant Forest with fire-resistant materials and raked away vegetation to protect them from nearby fires. A firefighter mops up hot spots in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, California, September 20. Noah Berger/AP Photo