Hundreds of people were ordered to evacuate Yosemite National Park as a wildfire burned through dense forest, threatening the largest grove of giant sequoias in the National Park.
Residents living in the community of Wawona were ordered to leave.
About 700 visitors staying at the Wawona campground in tents, cabins, and a historic hotel were also ordered to evacuate.
The rest of Yosemite National Park remained open, but heavy smoke obscured some of the park’s most iconic views and created unhealthy air quality for outdoor recreation.
More than 500 mature giant sequoia trees were threatened in the famed Mariposa Grove.
Fortunately, there were no reports of severe damage to any named mature sequoias, including the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant.
Up to a fifth of the estimated 75,000 large sequoias have been killed due to lightning-sparked wildfires over the past two years.
These sequoias are the largest trees by volume and a significant draw for tourists to the national park the size of Rhode Island.
A year and a half ago, a fierce windstorm ripped through the grove, toppling 15 giant sequoias and countless other trees.
These dead trees and massive numbers of pines killed by bark beetles provided ample fuel for the flames.
The national park service sent a team to the Mariposa Grove to wrap some of the massive trunks in fire-resistant foil to protect them as the blaze burned out of control.
They also set up a sprinkler system in the grove to moisten the tree trunks.
Officials were hopeful that the steady spray of water and previous prescribed burns would be enough to keep flames at bay.
The team prioritized the oldest named trees like the Grizzly Giant.
The 2,000 to 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant has a vast history dating back to Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln signed legislation protecting the grove and Yosemite Valley in 1864, paving the way for the creation of national parks and marking the beginning of the modern conservation movement.
Yosemite National Park is composed primarily of wilderness, and fire is a natural component of the environment there.
Instead of putting out fires right once, officials frequently manage them for the benefit of the resources.
However, this wildfire is different because of the threat it poses to Wawona and the Mariposa Grove.
Crews took an all-out suppression approach, including using bulldozers to create a barrier around the community.
They typically don’t have dozers come in to dig a line or have fire retardants dropped in the park.
But that’s how important these resources are.
This blaze is just the latest to menace the ancient giants and sequoia groves, which are only found in the wild on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
The sequoias have evolved to thrive in fire, but high-severity wildfires brought on by climate change, drought, and decades of intensive fire control are increasingly too much for them to handle.
Although an official cause is still unknown, park officials believe humans caused the Washburn Fire burning in Yosemite National Park.
There was no lightning that day, so it wasn’t caused by a natural spark.
It’s a human-start fire still under investigation.
Some evacuation orders were lifted in the Sierra foothills, 80 miles northwest of the Yosemite fire, as containment grew to 72% on the Electra Fire.
The Electra Fire broke out near Jackson, temporarily forcing about 100 people celebrating the July 4th holiday along a river to seek shelter in a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. facility.
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