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Sequoias safe as crews battle Washburn fire in Yosemite

“Increased fire activity” is expected Tuesday as teams continue to battle the 3,221-acre Washburn fire in Yosemite National Park, but officials are increasingly confident that Mariposa Grove with the Ancient sequoias would have survived the fire.

“Although there is a lot of smoke with this, it seems to be progressing slowly and it looks like it is doing predictable things,” US Forest Service ranger Jennifer Christie said in a statement. community meeting on Monday night.

Nearly 700 firefighters battled the blaze from the air and on the ground, officials said, including setting fires, placing palm lines and using bulldozers to create barricades. The fire was 22% extinguished by Tuesday morning.

For days, all eyes were on two high-priority areas threatened by the raging blaze: the community of Wawona, which remains under mandatory evacuation orders, and Mariposa Grove, home to more than 500 adult Sequoias, including the 3,000-year-old species. Grizzly Giant.

There is still some cause for concern, as recent years have seen many old trees decimated by rapid, hot fires caused by climate change. Last year, the KNP complex and the Windy Fire in California killed an estimated 3% to 5% of the world’s Seri trees, and firefighters at the Washburn fire set up sprinkler systems to help protect the Grizzly Giant and other at-risk plants.

But Sequoias have also evolved from wildfires, and in fact rely on extreme heat to help release their seeds. Crystal Kolden, a fire scientist at UC Merced who has tracked the fire, said she’s “not worried” about the trees in Mariposa Grove.

“They’ve been doing the prescribed burns in that forest for over 50 years, and it’s the beginning of the season,” Kolden said by email. “This fire will actually be quite beneficial to them, and they better burn in July – this is normal when most lightning bolts catch fire in Yosemite, so it’s natural burning time – not in September.”

Indeed, many fire experts in recent years have praised the virtue of “good fire,” which can help clear centuries of valuable dead vegetation that has accumulated in the state’s forests due to past fire prevention policies. Forest Service spokesman Stanley Bercovitz said Yosemite has a good track record of letting fires do their natural work on the landscape, as well as a history of burns and prescribed crushing with heavy machinery.

“Mariposa Grove’s anxiety and threat level has gone down,” Bercovitz said. “The fire went through the lower part of the grove, but it was low and medium intensity and the kind of fire you like.”

Although it is too early to officially declare the forest safe, he said there are early signs that most trees will survive. A younger tree, about 200 years old, may have been lost, he said, but its fate will be unclear for some time.

But while the Washburn fire has the potential to benefit the forest if current conditions are maintained, that doesn’t mean the crews can relax. The fire has grown by about 1,000 acres from Monday morning to Tuesday, and high temperatures are expected to remain in the area through the weekend.

The flame has also shown several signs of its power, including formed a large pyrocumulus cloud on Monday signaled intense heat. Officials said the cloud was visible for miles, and areas from Sacramento to the Bay Area have reported impacts from the smoke.

In addition, the fire was so intense that at one point a branch “came into the air from the strong wind generated by the fire,” the Forest Service said, and “when it fell back to earth, it almost Missed two fire engines. “

There are other concerns, too. While the Forest Service has yet to release an official cause of the fire, Yosemite Supt National Park. Cicely Muldoon points out that it doesn’t come naturally.

“As you all know, there was no lightning that day, so it was a man-made fire and it’s under investigation,” she said at the community meeting Monday night. “That’s all I can really say.”

Bercovitz said he confirmed there were no strikes recorded on the lightning map when the fire broke out on Thursday, as well as no wind and no power lines in the area. But he cautioned that “the beginning of man” doesn’t necessarily mean arson, and it’s still too early to say anything for sure.

“As soon as you start saying that, it automatically points to a person, and who knows?” he say.

What is more obvious is the immense value of the woodland that firefighters are working to protect.

“Mariposa Grove was built in 1864 by Abraham Lincoln. It predates both the establishment of Yosemite National Park and the National Park Service,” Muldoon said during the meeting. “It’s really the root of the entire national park system – a place that’s very important to us, to the community.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-12/ancient-sequoias-safe-for-now-as-crews-continue-battling-3-200-acre-washburn-fire-in-yosemite Sequoias safe as crews battle Washburn fire in Yosemite

Edmund DeMarche

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