Rescue workers wrapped fireproof blankets from giant sequoia trees, the world’s tallest trees, on Thursday to protect them from wildfires ravaging chronically drought-stricken California.
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Firefighters visited a grove of redwoods, including the 83-meter “General Sherman”, considered the largest tree in the world, and plastered the base of the logs with aluminum foil in case these ancient trees were threatened by fire.
A total of 2,000 firefighters were mobilized in the Sequoia National Park area, in central California, to clean up the brush and prep devices there.
“They are taking extraordinary measures to protect these trees,” the Mercury News daily quoted one of the park’s officials, Christy Brigham, as saying. “We really want to do everything we can to protect these 2,000 to 3,000-year-old trees,” she says.
Thousands of square kilometers of forest have already burned this year in California. The number and intensity of fires have increased in recent years across the western United States, with a marked lengthening of the fire season.
According to experts, this phenomenon is especially associated with global warming: an increase in temperature, an increase in heat waves and a decrease in precipitation in places form an ideal incendiary combination.
Two fires broke out Thursday near the “Giant Forest” of Sequoia Park, which houses five of the world’s largest known trees, including “General Sherman,” and usually attracts tens of thousands of tourists.
Fires of low intensity are generally not enough to damage giant sequoia, which adapt to these disasters with their very thick bark and high branches, out of reach of flames.
Conversely, these trees need fires to reproduce: the heat of the flames explodes the cones like popcorn, releasing hundreds of seeds.
But these giants, which grow only in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada, haven’t adapted to the more intense fires that have tended to erupt in recent years thanks to climate change.
“Climate-wise, we’re in uncharted waters,” University of California, Merced fire specialist Crystal Colden was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying.
Last May, experts were surprised to discover a giant sequoia slowly burning, like logs in a fireplace, after it caught fire in a massive fire that devastated the area nine months earlier.
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