Wildfire returns to the giant sequoia range

Concern grows about wildfire in Giant Forest and surrounding groves

sequoia sign
Crews cover the iconic Sequoia National Park sign in preparation for oncoming fire.
Almost exactly a year after lightning-caused fires swept through California’s giant sequoia range, new fires have erupted in the Sierra Nevada, threatening groves of the world’s largest trees. 

Toward the south end of the range, lightning sparked the  Windy Fire  within the North Peyrone Grove on the Tule River Reservation. Northward, two fires have now merged and become the  KNP Complex , which is growing closer to a number of giant sequoia groves, including the Giant Forest, where some of the largest trees in the world can be found. People make pilgrimages from all over the world to see and experience the Giant Forest. To be in the presence of these tall, immense, old trees is one of the more inspiring experiences one can have in nature. 

The Windy Fire has quickly grown to 5,461 acres and has now stretched into both the North Peyrone Grove and South Peyrone Grove, into the Giant Sequoia National Monument and the Sequoia National Forest. At the last report, it is 0% contained. We have little information about how the giant sequoia in these groves have fared. The fire is near the League’s Red Hill giant sequoia property, and also not far from the Black Mountain Grove, which also saw fire in 2017 that killed a number of giant sequoia . (Update: There are indications that fire is now also in Long Meadow Grove and is threatening Cunningham Grove.)

The KNP Complex, which originally started as the Colony and Paradise fires, has now exceeded 9,300 acres. Last report indicated the fire was within a mile of the Giant Forest, home of the General Sherman tree, considered the world’s largest tree. Sequoia National Park has been closed to the public. Fire crews are now  prepping the General Sherman and other trees  to defend against fire. One defense is to wrap the base of these trees in aluminum-coated structure wrap to prevent damage to their cambium 

sherman tree wrap
The base of the General Sherman Tree has been wrapped in a protective material called structure wrap, usually used to protect park buildings and other infrastructure from fire.
Evacuations have been ordered for areas near these fires. Everyone at the League is concerned about those affected by the fires, and we are deeply thankful for the first responders helping keep everyone safe – firefighters, scientists, resource advisors, public information officers, and all who serve in different capacities in these emergencies. We’re also thankful for the land stewards and prescribed burn leaders who work in between fire seasons doing restoration work in forests that reduce the risk of catastrophic fire.  

Although giant sequoia have evolved to thrive in an ecosystem that includes fire, today’s wildfires are different. Because fires have been widely suppressed over the last hundred years, forests have become unnaturally overgrown. Without frequent low- to moderate-severity fires to clear out the underbrush and small trees, recent wildfires are burning hotter and moving faster. With these fires that burn larger areas, more frequently, at higher severity, giant sequoia trees and seedbanks are dying when they should be enduring for centuries. The League has a  great online explainer  about the current plight of the giant sequoia. 

Fires last year in the giant sequoia range  killed an unprecedented number of the oldest and largest giant sequoia , prompting Save the Redwoods League and others to  call for immediate action  to build more resilience into these treasured landscapes. 

Given the tremendous loss of giant sequoia last year, concern about the Giant Forest is warranted. But unlike many of the giant sequoia groves, Giant Forest has been consistently treated with prescribed fire and other stewardship methods since the 1970’s, so we are hoping it is more likely to survive an even more catastrophic fire. 

The KNP Complex could pose a greater threat to other groves in the area if it spreads. These include Oriole Lake Grove, Suwanee Grove, Squirrel Creek Grove, New Oriole Lake Grove, and potentially even Redwood Creek, Atwell/East Fork, and Castle Creek groves. 

We’ll continue to update you with information as we get it. 

In the meantime, there are ways you can help: 

About the author

Joanna Nelson, Ph.D., is an expert in conservation sciences, including forest, coastal and fire ecology. Named the League's Director of Science and Conservation Planning in 2021, Nelson has more than 20 years of experience. Nelson served as a postdoctoral fellow with the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University and as a NatureNet Science fellow for The Nature Conservancy. She earned her doctorate in environmental studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Earth Systems from Stanford University.

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