Fires shut Sequoia National Park, could threaten huge trees

A firefighter lays hose around the Foothills Visitor Center while battling the KNP Complex Fire in Sequoia National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The blaze is burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
A firefighter lays hose around the Foothills Visitor Center while battling the KNP Complex Fire in Sequoia National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The blaze is burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Sequoia National Park has been shut down and its namesake gigantic trees could be in danger as forest fires burn in steep terrain across California’s Sierra Nevada

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — Sequoia National Park is shut down, its namesake gigantic trees potentially threatened by two forest fires burning in steep and dangerous terrain in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Both fires were projected to advance in the direction of Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias including the General Sherman Tree, which is the largest tree on Earth by volume.

The massive sequoias grow on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. The General Sherman Tree stands 275 feet (83.8 meters) and is over 36 feet (11 meters) in diameter at the base, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

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

Ruggiero estimated that the closest flames were about a mile (1.6 kilometers) 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 nine square miles (24 square kilometers) late Tuesday, with fire jumping over the Generals Highway.

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% of the population of sequoias, Ruggiero said.

Sequoias rely on fire for such processes as releasing seeds from cones and making clearings in the forest that allow seedlings to grow. The record of burns in the rings of trees thousands of years old demonstrates their relationship to fire.

But changing climate has intensified forest fires and their impact.

“Sequoia trees are a fire-adaptive tree,” Ruggiero said. “It’s important to have fire to have sequoias thrive, but when we get such intense fires even the sequoias can’t stand up to them.”

Giant sequoias are closely related to the towering, slender redwoods that grow along the Northern California coast and have the same relationship with fire.

That interaction was tested last year when a huge fire tore through almost all of Big Basin Redwoods State Park on the coast between San Francisco and Monterey Bay.

A week after the fire, an Associated Press reporter and photographer hiked the renowned Redwood Trail and confirmed that most of the ancient redwoods, about 2,000 years old, had survived. Months later there were signs of new growth.

California has had more than 7,400 wildfires so far this year, scorching more than 3,500 square miles (9,065 square kilometers).

California’s second-largest fire on record, the Dixie Fire, remained 75% contained after burning 1,500 square miles in the northern Sierra and southern Cascades region. Near Lake Tahoe, containment of the 342-square-mile (885-square- kilometer) Caldor Fire increased to 68%.

Flames from the KNP Complex Fire burn a hillside above the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The blaze is burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Flames from the KNP Complex Fire burn a hillside above the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The blaze is burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

A sign announces the closure of Sequoia National Park, where the KNP Complex Fires are burning, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in Tulare County, Calif. Individually named the Colony and Paradise Fires, the blazes are burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
A sign announces the closure of Sequoia National Park, where the KNP Complex Fires are burning, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in Tulare County, Calif. Individually named the Colony and Paradise Fires, the blazes are burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Flames from the KNP Complex Fire burn along a hillside above the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The blaze is burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Flames from the KNP Complex Fire burn along a hillside above the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The blaze is burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

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

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2015, file photo, giant Sequoia trees are seen in a meadow in the at Sequoia National Park near Visalia, Calif. Sequoia National Park was shut down and its namesake gigantic trees were under potential threat Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, as forest fires burned in steep and dangerous terrain in California's Sierra Nevada. The Colony and Paradise fires were ignited by lightning last week and were being battled collectively as the KNP Complex. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Caption
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2015, file photo, giant Sequoia trees are seen in a meadow in the at Sequoia National Park near Visalia, Calif. Sequoia National Park was shut down and its namesake gigantic trees were under potential threat Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, as forest fires burned in steep and dangerous terrain in California's Sierra Nevada. The Colony and Paradise fires were ignited by lightning last week and were being battled collectively as the KNP Complex. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Credit: Rich Pedroncelli

Credit: Rich Pedroncelli

FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2015, file photo, fire fighters walk near a giant Sequoia at Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, Calif. Nearby Sequoia National Park was shut down and its namesake gigantic trees were under potential threat Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, as forest fires burned in steep and dangerous terrain in California's Sierra Nevada. The Colony and Paradise fires were ignited by lightning last week and were being battled collectively as the KNP Complex. Kings Canyon National Park, to the north of Sequoia, remained open. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)
Caption
FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2015, file photo, fire fighters walk near a giant Sequoia at Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, Calif. Nearby Sequoia National Park was shut down and its namesake gigantic trees were under potential threat Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, as forest fires burned in steep and dangerous terrain in California's Sierra Nevada. The Colony and Paradise fires were ignited by lightning last week and were being battled collectively as the KNP Complex. Kings Canyon National Park, to the north of Sequoia, remained open. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

Credit: Gary Kazanjian

Credit: Gary Kazanjian

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2015, file photo, visitors explore the Tunnel Log, a passage cut through a giant Sequoia tree that fell in 1937, at Sequoia National Park, near Visalia, Calif. Sequoia National Park was shut down and its namesake gigantic trees were under potential threat Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, as forest fires burned in steep and dangerous terrain in California's Sierra Nevada. The Colony and Paradise fires were ignited by lightning last week and were being battled collectively as the KNP Complex. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Caption
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2015, file photo, visitors explore the Tunnel Log, a passage cut through a giant Sequoia tree that fell in 1937, at Sequoia National Park, near Visalia, Calif. Sequoia National Park was shut down and its namesake gigantic trees were under potential threat Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, as forest fires burned in steep and dangerous terrain in California's Sierra Nevada. The Colony and Paradise fires were ignited by lightning last week and were being battled collectively as the KNP Complex. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Credit: Rich Pedroncelli

Credit: Rich Pedroncelli

A sign announces the closure of Sequoia National Park, where the KNP Complex Fires are burning, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in Tulare County, Calif. Individually named the Colony and Paradise Fires, the blazes are burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
A sign announces the closure of Sequoia National Park, where the KNP Complex Fires are burning, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in Tulare County, Calif. Individually named the Colony and Paradise Fires, the blazes are burning near the Giant Forest, home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2020, file photo, a redwood forest smolders in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Calif. Sequoia National Park was shut down and its namesake gigantic trees were potentially threatened Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, as two forest fires burned in steep and dangerous terrain in California's Sierra Nevada. Giant sequoias are closely related to the redwoods that grow along the Northern California coast and have the same relationship with fire. Last year a huge fire tore through almost all of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Caption
FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2020, file photo, a redwood forest smolders in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Calif. Sequoia National Park was shut down and its namesake gigantic trees were potentially threatened Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, as two forest fires burned in steep and dangerous terrain in California's Sierra Nevada. Giant sequoias are closely related to the redwoods that grow along the Northern California coast and have the same relationship with fire. Last year a huge fire tore through almost all of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez

Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez

FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2020, file photo, fire burns in the hollow of an old-growth redwood tree in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Calif. Sequoia National Park was shut down and its namesake gigantic trees were potentially threatened Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, as two forest fires burned in steep and dangerous terrain in California's Sierra Nevada. Giant sequoias are closely related to the redwoods that grow along the Northern California coast and have the same relationship with fire. That interaction was tested last year when a huge fire tore through almost all of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Caption
FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2020, file photo, fire burns in the hollow of an old-growth redwood tree in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Calif. Sequoia National Park was shut down and its namesake gigantic trees were potentially threatened Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, as two forest fires burned in steep and dangerous terrain in California's Sierra Nevada. Giant sequoias are closely related to the redwoods that grow along the Northern California coast and have the same relationship with fire. That interaction was tested last year when a huge fire tore through almost all of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez

Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez