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California fire crews wrap giant sequoias in foil as blaze nears

  • 17 Sep 2021

Colossal General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park, some other sequoias, the Giant Forest Museum, and other buildings were wrapped for protection against the possibility of intense flames.

The Windy Fire burns in Sequoia National Forest, California, on September 16, 2021. ( AP )

Fire crews have resorted to wrapping the bases of some giant sequoias in fire-resistant coverings in a desperate effort to save the towering specimens, including the General Sherman, the world's largest tree, the National Park Service said.

The blaze, one of dozens to erupt across several western states in a fire season that got off to an early start, forced the closing earlier this week of Sequoia National Park and left a dense layer of smoke in the area early on Friday.

Air quality was poor in the small town of Three Rivers, which is near a park entrance and about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, according to the town's website.

The so-called KNP Complex fire, formed by the merger of two other wildfires, had grown to more than 3,640 hectares (9,000 acres) by late on Thursday, according to the federal Inciweb fire information system.

It was burning about a mile (1.6 km) from the park's Giant Forest, home to the largest tree on earth by volume, dubbed General Sherman, before 115 employees evacuated the park earlier this week, the park service said.

"Crews are preparing the Giant Forest before the fire reaches that area, by removing fuel and applying structure wrap on some of the iconic monarch sequoias that characterize the most famous area of Sequoia National Park," the park service said in a statement early on Friday.

The aluminum wrapping can withstand intensive heat for short periods. 

Federal officials said they have used the material for several years throughout the US West to protect sensitive structures from flames. 

Near Lake Tahoe, some homes that were wrapped in protective material survived a recent wildfire while others nearby were destroyed.

Battling blazes

The colossal General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest, some other sequoias, the Giant Forest Museum and other buildings were wrapped for protection against the possibility of intense flames, fire spokeswoman Rebecca Paterson said.

The General Sherman tree towers over 2,000 other giant sequoias in the park at 83 m (275 feet) and is over 11 m (36 feet) in diameter at its base, according to the park service.

Crews of 482 firefighters, aided by aircraft, are battling the week-old blaze, which was started by lightning and is burning in difficult-to-reach steep canyons, fueled by dry timber and chaparral, the Inciweb system said.

Maximum wind gusts of about 65 kph (40 miles per hour) have been hampering firefighters, but a predicted cooling trend is expected to aid their battle, it said.

The KNP Complex is one of at least 28 fires in California and 129 across several western states that have erupted since June in a fire season that traditionally begins in late summer, according to Inciweb data.

Other steps the park service said it has taken to protect the sequoias are prescribed burns, which would reduce the amount of available fuel in case KNP complex reaches them.

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