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Yosemite National Park Forest Fires

Laura Puttkamer
Photo: Cameron Strandberg from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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On July 7, 2022, a forest fire broke out in Yosemite National Park, threatening more than 500 fully grown sequoia trees – the world’s largest tree species. Read more about the fire here.

Yosemite on Fire

The recent forest fire in Yosemite, which started on July 7th and had doubled in size by July 10th, 2022, threatened the national park’s sequoia trees. Firefighters did their best to protect the giant trees as well as a local community. Several hundred guests on a nearby camping site had to leave. In total, 1,600 visitors were evacuated. The park’s southern entrance had to close due to smoke and soot, but the western entrance remained open.

The fire expanded rapidly from 250 acres to about 1,600 acres, with about 400 firefighters trying to contain it as it endangered more than 500 fully grown sequoia trees in the Mariposa Grove. However, the fire harmed none of the up to 3,000-year-old and taller-than-300-metre trees with names such as “Grizzly Giants”.

Efforts of the firefighters included laying down a sprinkler system in the grove. This helped to keep the trunks of the giant sequoias moist. The steady spray of sprinkler water also helped to keep the flames away from the grove. Any materials that could help fuel the fire was cleared out of the grove. By July 27th, firefighters managed to contain 87% of the fire.

Giant Sequoias In Sequoia National Park. Source: Tuxyso, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Forest fires as a continuous threat

This time, Mariposa Grove survived the forest fires unharmed. However, the area is prone to more fires in the future. In a three-year-period that began in 2013, a high number of trees died in the area, which increases the threat of fires. Fighting large fires can also be very dangerous for the firefighters themselves: During this most recent event, they narrowly averted a disaster when debris swirling around the fire’s column nearly struck crew members from an airplane.

So far, the cause of the fire in Yosemite is unclear. Fires are a regular occurrence in the national park. Some of them are even welcome as part of the natural cycle in the climate. However, recently wildfires have increased drastically. Six major fires in California’s Sierra Nevada range have killed thousands of valuable giant sequoias between 2015 and 2021. Up to 85% of all giant sequoia groves in that area have been lost. In the preceding 100 years, only about 25% were lost.

Droughts in California

Experts are warning that the human-caused climate crisis is causing droughts, which result in frequent threats from wildfires. Giant sequoias, but also countless other valuable elements of flora and fauna are under threat. On July 24th, firefighters could contain California’s largest forest fire of 2022 just a few miles before Yosemite Park.

While fires are always burning in California’s dry months, July is early for the area. Fire season will expectedly last well into autumn, when more dangerous wind-driven wildfires arrive. A combination of rising temperatures and an abundance of ignitable vegetation have made the state’s forests particularly vulnerable to fires. The federal government has classified 60% of California’s land area as being in extreme drought.

 

Climate change is visible more and more everyday. Recently, Australia had to endure these flash floods. 

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