Sequoia National Park and the Largest Tree on Earth Threatened by 2 Wildfires

The entire Sequoia National Park was shut down as the park and the largest tree on Earth was threatened by two wildfires burning in California's Sierra Nevada area on Tuesday.

Both fires were projected to spread in the direction of Giant Forest, where more than 2,000 giant sequoias including the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on Earth by volume, would be at risk.

"There's no imminent threat to Giant Forest but that is a potential," said Mark Ruggiero, fire information officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

The fires were started by a lightning storm that struck in Sequoia National Park on September 9, officials said. The flames spread through the steep Sierra Nevada terrain which is densely packed with dead trees, which are highly flammable and allow the fires to spread more quickly.

Sequoia National Park closed its Tulare County entrance on Saturday, and the Giant Forest on Sunday. The entire park was closed on Tuesday.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Sequoia National Forest Fires
Sequoia National Park was fully closed Sunday as the park and the largest tree in the world were threatened by advancing wildfires on September 14, 2021. In this photo from September 14, 2020, fire advances along the Western Divide Highway during the SQF Complex Fire near Camp Nelson, California. David McNew/Getty Images

The massive sequoias grow on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. The General Sherman Tree stands 275 feet and is over 36 feet in diameter at the base, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

Ruggiero estimated that the closest flames were about a mile from the grove. Sequoia headquarters personnel, about 75 people, were being evacuated, he said.

The Colony and Paradise fires, named for locations where they started, were ignited by lightning last week and were being battled collectively under the name of the KNP Complex. Their combined sizes grew to more than 4.7 square miles.

All park facilities were already closed and wilderness trailhead permits had been canceled. The Silver City retreat and the summer cabins of Cabin Cove were under evacuation orders. Part of the community of Three Rivers outside the park entrance was under an evacuation warning.

Kings Canyon National Park, to the north of Sequoia, remained open.

The potential threat to the giant sequoias came just a year after a disastrous complex of fires in the same region.

Part of the wildfire complex known as the Castle Fire destroyed 10 percent of the population of sequoias, Ruggiero said.

California has had more than 7,400 wildfires so far this year, scorching more than 3,500 square miles.

California's second-largest fire on record, the Dixie Fire, remained 75 percent contained after burning 1,500 square miles in the northern Sierra and southern Cascades region. Near Lake Tahoe, containment of the 342-square-mile Caldor Fire increased to 68 percent.

Wildfires Sequoia
In the southern Sierra Nevada, two fires ignited by lightning are burning in Sequoia National Park. In this Sunday, September 12, 2021 photo released by the KNP Complex Fire Incident Command, smoke plumes rise from the Paradise Fire in Sequoia National Park, California. KNP Complex Fire Incident Command via AP