As fast-burning wildfires close in on California's Sequoia National Park, firefighters are wrapping the base of the world's largest tree with aluminium foil blankets, amid fears the blaze could soon reach it.
The Colony and Paradise fires, sparked last week by lightning strikes and named after where they began, have grown significantly in central California in recent days, according to the National Park Service (NPS). Evacuation advisories have been issued in the nearby community of Three Rivers, and more than 350 firefighters are battling the blazes with helicopters and water-dropping planes.
The KNP Complex grew significantly yesterday. The Paradise Fire has a new acreage of 5,914 acres, and the Colony Fire has a new acreage of 1,125 acres, for a combined total for the KNP Complex of 7,039, with 0% containment. Follow updates at https://t.co/VpxXBv19c4 pic.twitter.com/5RngDMvth3
— Sequoia & Kings Cyn (@SequoiaKingsNPS) September 15, 2021
As of Thursday evening, the fires known collectively as the KNP complex were moving closer to the Giant Forest in Sequoia; home to some 2000 sequoias, including a 275ft (83m) tree called General Sherman. The 2500-year-old tree is the largest in the world by volume, at 1,487 cubic meters, and is the park's top attraction.
As fires grew fiercer, consuming roughly 7039 acres according to data from InciWeb, efforts were underway overnight to protect the colossal tree and several others within the forest—with firefighters wrapping their bases in fire-resistant aluminium foil blankets to mitigate the damage if the flames were to reach them.
The Giant Forest Museum, the park's historic wooden entrance sign and other buildings in the area have been wrapped in fire-resistant blankets too, NPS fire spokesperson, Rebecca Paterson, told the Associated Press. Prescribed burn operations on vegetation and other fuel in the area that could feed the flames are also planned. "Hopefully, the Giant Forest will emerge from this unscathed," Paterson said.
Services and facilities in Sequoia National Park are now closed, including roads, visitor centers, lodges, and campgrounds. As active wildfires burn throughout the state, the California State Parks Department is asking people to recreate responsibly outdoors. Prior to leaving home, check the status of the park you want to visit to find out what restrictions and guidelines are in place. Do not enter closed areas, and be aware of poor air quality when spending time outdoors in the vicinity of wildfires.
"Knowledge of the area, weather, terrain, physical limitation and a sense of general safety can help ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. If wildfires are burning nearby, visit another day," a department spokesperson told Lonely Planet.