California firefighters scramble to protect sequoia groves

A helicopter drops water on the Windy Fire burning in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
A helicopter drops water on the Windy Fire burning in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Flames have reached a grove of sequoia trees in California as firefighters battled to keep fire from driving further into another grove, where the base of the world’s largest tree has been wrapped in protective foil

THREE RIVERS, Calif. (AP) — Flames on Sunday reached a grove of sequoia trees in California as firefighters battled to keep fire from driving further into another grove, where the base of the world’s largest tree has been wrapped in protective foil.

Fire officials warned that hot, dry weather and stronger winds were contributing to “critical fire conditions” in the area of the KNP Complex, two lightning-sparked blazes that merged on the western side of Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada.

The fire reached Long Meadow Grove, where the Trail of 100 Giant Sequoias is a national monument. Fire officials haven’t yet been able to determine how much damage was done to the groves, which are in remote and hard-to-reach areas. However, an Associated Press photographer saw active flames burning up a trunk, with the forest floor ablaze below.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning through Sunday, saying gusts and lower humidity could create conditions for rapid wildfire spread.

The fires forced the evacuation of the park last week, along with parts of Three Rivers, a foothill town of about 2,500 people. Firefighters using bulldozers expanded a line between the fire and the community, fire spokesperson Rebecca Paterson said Sunday.

More than 34 square miles (88 square kilometers) of forest land have been blackened.

The National Park Service said Friday that fire had reached the westernmost tip of the Giant Forest, where it scorched a grouping of sequoias known as the “Four Guardsmen” that mark the entrance to the grove of 2,000 sequoias.

Since then crews have managed to keep the flames from encroaching further into the area.

“The fire perimeter kind of wraps around the Giant Forest at this point," Paterson said.

Firefighters swaddled the base of the General Sherman Tree, along with other trees in the Giant Forest, in a type of aluminum that can withstand high heat.

The General Sherman Tree is the largest in the world by volume, at 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters), according to the National Park Service. It towers 275 feet (84 meters) high and has a circumference of 103 feet (31 meters) at ground level.

Firefighters who were wrapping the base of the sequoias in foil and sweeping leaves and needles from the forest floor around the trees had to flee from the danger, fire spokesperson Katy Hooper said Saturday. They returned when conditions improved to continue the work and start a strategic fire along Generals Highway to protect the Giant Forest grove, she said.

Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to grow. But the extraordinary intensity of fires — fueled by climate change — can overwhelm the trees.

“Once you get fire burning inside the tree, that will result in mortality,” said Jon Wallace, the operations section chief for the KNP Complex.

The fires already have burned into several groves containing trees as tall as 200 feet (61 meters) feet tall and 2,000 years old.

To the south, the Windy Fire grew to 28 square miles (72 square kilometers) on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Giant Sequoia National Monument, where it has burned into the Peyrone grove of sequoias and threatens others.

Historic drought tied to climate change is making wildfires harder to fight. It has killed millions of trees in California alone. Scientists say climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

More than 7,000 wildfires in California this year have damaged or destroyed more than 3,000 homes and other buildings and torched well over 3,000 square miles (7,770 square kilometers) of land, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

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This story has corrected a reference to the General Sherman tree, which is the world's largest by volume, not tallest.

Firefighters battling the Windy Fire extinguish a spot fire near the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Firefighters battling the Windy Fire extinguish a spot fire near the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Flames lick up a sequoia tree as the Windy Fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Flames lick up a sequoia tree as the Windy Fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Firefighter Austin Cia sprays water as the Windy Fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Firefighter Austin Cia sprays water as the Windy Fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

A firefighter battles the Windy Fire burning in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
A firefighter battles the Windy Fire burning in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Flames lick up a sequoia tree as the Windy Fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Flames lick up a sequoia tree as the Windy Fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Sequoia trees stand in Lost Grove along Generals Highway as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Sequoia trees stand in Lost Grove along Generals Highway as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Sequoia trees stand in Lost Grove along Generals Highway as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Sequoia trees stand in Lost Grove along Generals Highway as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Members of the media look at sequoia trees in Lost Grove as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Members of the media look at sequoia trees in Lost Grove as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Sequoia trees stand in Lost Grove along Generals Highway as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Sequoia trees stand in Lost Grove along Generals Highway as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Sequoia trees stand in Lost Grove along Generals Highway as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Sequoia trees stand in Lost Grove along Generals Highway as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Mark Garrett, a fire information officer, examines a sequoia tree during a media tour of Lost Grove as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Mark Garrett, a fire information officer, examines a sequoia tree during a media tour of Lost Grove as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

A fire engine drives past sequoia trees in Lost Grove as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
A fire engine drives past sequoia trees in Lost Grove as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Members of the media walk among sequoia trees in Lost Grove as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Members of the media walk among sequoia trees in Lost Grove as the KNP Complex Fire burns about 15 miles away on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Sequoia National Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Fire-resistant wrap covers a bridge as the Windy Fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Fire-resistant wrap covers a bridge as the Windy Fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Firefighters discuss tactics while battling the Windy Fire burning in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Firefighters discuss tactics while battling the Windy Fire burning in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Smoke rises above trees as the Windy Fire burns in Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Smoke rises above trees as the Windy Fire burns in Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

A firefighters battling the Windy Fire extinguishes a spot fire near the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
A firefighters battling the Windy Fire extinguishes a spot fire near the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Firefighters pass a sign wrapped in fire-resistant material while battling the Windy Fire burning in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Firefighters pass a sign wrapped in fire-resistant material while battling the Windy Fire burning in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger

Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Caption
Firefighters battle the Windy Fire as it burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove of Sequoia National Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Flames scorched at least two sequoia trees as firefighters worked to defend the grove. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Credit: Noah Berger

Credit: Noah Berger