1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Blaze theatens ancient trees

September 12, 2015

Rapidly advancing forest fires in the US state of California have spurred evacuations. One blaze now threatens an ancient grove of giant sequoia redwoods, some of the oldest on record.

Symbolbild - Redwood Wald
Image: Getty Images/ M. Ralston

More than 2,200 firefighters were on the front lines of the 'Rough Fire' Friday, trying to halt the advance of a six-week blaze that has already scorched 119,000 acres (48,000 hectares).

Ground crews are mounting an all-out defense of Grant Grove, a stand of ancient redwoods that includes the General Grant tree, one of the largest and tallest of all giant sequoias, as flames encroached within a mile (1.6 km) of the area, said Paul Garnier, a spokesman for the fire command.

Authorities have already ordered the evacuation of the ancient grove and popular park attraction, where visitors come to marvel at the massive trees estimated to be between 1,800 and 2,700 years old - some of the oldest and largest in the world.

The largest of them, known as General Grant, was measured to stand 83.8 meters (275 feet) tall in 2012 - as high as a 26-storey building, according to the US National Park Service.

Massive trees can resist fire

Bildergalerie Bäume General Sherman Giant Sequoia
The General Sherman sequoia is the largest tree on earth. The tree's height is 83.8 meters (275 ft), its diameter - 7.7 meters (25 ft) and its estimated age - 2,300-2,700 years. The 'Rough Fire' threatens a similar grove in neighboring Kings Canyon National Park.Image: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

Giant sequoias are naturally flame-resistant, and most of the area's trees show scars from past wildfires, but authorities say they don't want to take any chances especially as four years of drought have left them particularly vulnerable.

The fire has been consuming large swathes of wilderness inside Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks since it was ignited by a lightning strike on July 31.

By Friday, about 29 percent of the fire had been contained though hundreds of homes in the park's vicinity have been evacuated, Garnier said.

Meanwhile, a considerably smaller blaze posed a greater immediate danger to private property on Friday about 100 miles (160 km) to the north along the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

The 'Butte Fire' has destroyed at least six homes and two outbuildings since it erupted on Wednesday near the former gold mining town of Jackson, east of the state capital Sacramento.

Growing quickly in the midst of a heat wave baking the region in temperatures around 38 Celsius (more than 100 Fahrenheit), the fire threatened some 6,000 houses on Friday, most of them placed under evacuation orders, said Mike Yeun of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The national parks officially remain open, though staff and visitors have been evacuated from some areas; all roads leading into the Kings Canyon have been closed since Thursday, said park spokeswoman Dana Dierkes.

jar/bw (Reuters, dpa, AP)