Authorities have set a goal of containing the KNP Complex Fire in Sequoia National Park by Sunday, Oct. 10.
On Sunday, flames reached a grove of sequoia trees as firefighters battled to keep the blaze from driving further into another grove, where the base of the world’s largest tree has been wrapped in protective foil.
Fire officials warned that hot, dry weather and stronger winds were contributing to “critical fire conditions” in the area of the KNP Complex, two lightning-sparked blazes that merged on the western side of Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada.
A total of 810 personnel are fighting the fire, which has grown to 23,743 acres.
You can find evacuation order information at this link.
Fire Reaches Trail of 100 Giant Sequoias
The fire reached Long Meadow Grove, where the Trail of 100 Giant Sequoias is a national monument. Fire officials haven’t yet been able to determine how much damage was done to the groves, which are in remote and hard-to-reach areas. However, an Associated Press photographer saw active flames burning up a trunk, with the forest floor ablaze below.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning through Sunday, saying gusts and lower humidity could create conditions for rapid wildfire spread.
The fires forced the evacuation of the park last week, along with parts of Three Rivers, a foothill town of about 2,500 people. Firefighters using bulldozers expanded a line between the fire and the community, fire spokesperson Rebecca Paterson said Sunday.
More than 34 square miles of forest land have been blackened.
The National Park Service said Friday that fire had reached the westernmost tip of the Giant Forest, where it scorched a grouping of sequoias known as the “Four Guardsmen” that mark the entrance to the grove of 2,000 sequoias.
Since then crews have managed to keep the flames from encroaching further into the area.
“The fire perimeter kind of wraps around the Giant Forest at this point,” Paterson said.
Firefighters Forced to Flee Area on Saturday
Firefighters swaddled the base of the General Sherman Tree, along with other trees in the Giant Forest, in a type of aluminum that can withstand high heat.
Those who were wrapping the base of the sequoias in foil and sweeping leaves and needles from the forest floor around the trees had to flee from the danger, fire spokesperson Katy Hooper said Saturday. They returned when conditions improved to continue the work and start a strategic fire along Generals Highway to protect the Giant Forest grove, she said.
Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to grow. But the extraordinary intensity of fires — fueled by climate change — can overwhelm the trees.
“Once you get fire burning inside the tree, that will result in mortality,” said Jon Wallace, the operations section chief for the KNP Complex.
The fires already have burned into several groves containing trees as tall as 200 feet and 2,000 years old.
Windy Fire Grows to 28 Square Miles
To the south, the Windy Fire grew to 28 square miles on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Giant Sequoia National Monument, where it has burned into the Peyrone grove of sequoias and threatens others.
Historic drought tied to climate change is making wildfires harder to fight. It has killed millions of trees in California alone. Scientists say 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.
(GV Wire contributed to this article.)