If you love giant sequoias and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the good news is that the parks’ famous sequoias appear to be safe from the wildfires. On the other hand, it may be quite some time before you can visit some parts of the parks.
More than 10,000 trees weakened by fires, drought, and disease must now be removed along a stretch of State Route 180, known as Generals Highway because the trees could fall on cars or block access for emergency and fire response vehicles, the National Park Service explained at a community meeting last week, an Associated Press article reports.
That section of Generals Highway will be closed while tree removal is underway.
Here’s why Generals Highway has its name. The highway connects Giant Forest — home to the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia — with Grant Grove, home to the General Grant Tree in neighboring Kings Canyon. The General Sherman Tree, which is 275 feet tall and more than 36 feet in diameter at its base, is the world’s largest tree by volume. The General Grant Tree, which is 268 feet tall, is considered the second-largest tree in the world.
The Fire’s Impact
The KNP Complex fire, which was started by lightning on September 10, has burned more than 88,000 acres. It is currently 63 percent contained, and California’s recent rains have slowed the fire’s growth.
The National Park Service explains that preliminary estimates indicate there are as many as 10,000 hazard trees along Generals Highway between Grant Grove and Lodgepole, but there may also be thousands of other trees along other roads in the parks as well.
That said, the National Park Service explicitly pointed out that — contrary to reports by some news outlets — the hazard trees are “in mixed conifer woodlands, and include pine, fir, cedar, and other tree species.” Although there may be some damaged sequoias, the hazard trees targeted for removal “are not, by and large, giant sequoias.”
Why The Sequoias Are Safe
One reason that sequoias remained safe is because the trees have evolved remarkably well so they can be fire-resistant. For one thing, their thick, spongy bark insulates the trees from heat, and because they are so tall, their branches are high enough to avoid most fires’ flames. Secondly, a fire’s heat is needed to release seeds from the trees’ cones. Finally, smaller fires clear away undergrowth, giving seedlings space to take root.
Firefighters also had taken precautions to protect the trees. As the wildfires approached Sequoia’s Giant Forest, firefighters wrapped fire-resistant blankets around the base of sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree. The fire-resistant, aluminum wrapping, which can withstand intense heat for short periods, has been used by the National Park Service and Forest Service for several years to protect structures from flames.
Forest staff unwrapped the base of the General Sherman tree after danger from the fire had passed last Friday.
What’s Open At The Parks
Due to successful fire suppression operations and a period of favorable weather, much of Kings Canyon and some wilderness areas of Sequoia have reopened to the public. It’s important to note, however, that all developed areas of Sequoia remain closed.
In Kings Canyon, for example, the majority of Grant Grove, including the General Grant Tree, is now open. Cedar Grove is also now open, as is the Kings Canyon visitor information center.
Then again, as was previously noted, all areas south of the intersection between Highway 180 and the Generals Highway are closed in Kings Canyon. All Grant Grove concessions and all campgrounds in Cedar Grove and Grant Grove are closed as well.
Most of Sequoia remains closed due to the ongoing KNP Complex Fire. There is no current timeframe in place for reopening the park.
You can find more information about road closures, current conditions, and which parts of Sequoia and Kings Canyon are open here.
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