At least two dozen giant sequoia trees destroyed in Windy Fire

Smokejumpers climbed one tree to knock down fire in upper limbs

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11:33 a.m. PDT Oct. 1, 2021

Windy Fire map 8:45 p.m. PDT Oct. 1, 2021
Windy Fire map at 8:45 p.m. PDT Sept. 30, 2021. The green areas are giant sequoia groves. The black line inside the Windy Fire was the perimeter on Sept. 27, 2021. The “Fawn Fire” should be labeled “French Fire”.

Some of the giant sequoia trees that can live for more than 3,000 years  are being killed in the Windy Fire which has burned about 89,800 acres east of Porterville in Southern California. The huge blaze is burning in Tule River Indian Reservation; the Sequoia National Forest, including the Giant Sequoia National Monument; and Tulare County and state responsibility areas.

The multi-year drought has led to extremely dry fuel moistures which is causing wildfires in California and other areas to burn with unusual intensity, making even some of the giant sequoias with bark up to a foot thick susceptible to wildfires burning under these conditions.

The giant sequoias are found in groves, seen as green areas on the map above.

CNN is reporting that Garrett Dickman, a wildfire botanist with Yosemite National Park who is leading personnel protecting the big trees, said an early assessment indicates that at least 29 of them have died so far.

From CNN:

While the assessment is just beginning, there’s already grave concern. The center of Long Meadow Grove managed well, thanks to work crews did in preparation for the fire, but moving away from that area, Dickman counted 29 sequoias that were “just incinerated” by the blaze.

“There were four of those that had burned so hot that they’d fallen over,” Dickman said, adding one tree burned so badly that it was nearly reduced to just an outline of a tree on the ground. “The majority of the grove is going to survive,” Dickman said, “but there are portions that burned so hot and those trees won’t make it.”

Elsewhere in the forest, Dickman has seen even more devastation. In Starvation Creek Grove, which he says has no modern fire history, he said he saw only “a couple of trees survived.”

“It was one of the groves where we got a few hours of prep work and those trees that we did the emergency prep work around, from the picture, they are the ones that did survive and all the rest of them — it doesn’t look promising,” Dickman said, adding that he plans to assess the grove in the next few days.

Smokejumpers are firefighters who arrive at a fire by parachute. They are trained to climb trees in order to retrieve chutes hung up in trees. Some of them assigned to the fire are going to climb the iconic Bench Tree in the Trail of 100 Giants and use a fire hose to apply water to an adjacent sequoia that has fire burning in some of the upper limbs. This may be unprecedented, or at the very least, it is very uncommon.

The National Park Service reported that, “…preliminary estimates suggest that the 2020 Castle Fire [just north of the Windy Fire, see, map above] killed between 31% to 42% of large sequoias within the Castle Fire footprint, or 10% to 14% of all large sequoias across the tree’s natural range in the Sierra Nevada. This translates to an estimated loss of 7,500 to 10,600 large sequoias (those with trunk diameters of 4 feet or more).”

The Windy Fire was active Thursday, growing by about 1,800 acres, and is expected to be more so on Friday. On Thursday there was significant spotting on the south and west sides.

Crews have documented 14 residences, 12 outbuildings, and 2 commercial structures that have been destroyed.

Resources assigned to the fire include 71 hand crews, 136 engines, 17 helicopters, 23 dozers, and 12 water tenders for a total of 2,500 personnel.

The top priority continues to be the southwest side where crews are making good progress securing containment lines and providing structure defense around Sugarloaf and Sugarloaf Mountain Park north towards Pine Flat and California Hot Springs.

If weather conditions on the northwest side permit, Friday crews will continue a tactical firing operation to help improve containment lines.

On the east and southeast sides helicopters and the Bombardier CL-515 Super Scooper have been dropping water and retardant on the upper ridge to slow the fire’s movement east towards the Kern River.

Tulare County residents can sign up to receive county emergency notifications by registering at AlertTC.com.

Information about evacuations can be found at the Tulare County website.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “At least two dozen giant sequoia trees destroyed in Windy Fire”

  1. We were saddened by Governor Newsom who did not take the time to visit Tule River Indian Reservation. Second largest in Ca with an abundance of redwood trees. To which the Windy Fire took it’s tole on our redwood trees as well.

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  2. I know a few retired jumpers that would’ve loved to have climbed a few of these “grands”, as sad as it is.

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  3. My family and I camped at quaking aspen campground last summer just before the castle fire started. I was talking with my wife just how devastating a fire getting established in that area would be. We also spent a day in the trail of 100 giants. The SQF was doing a lot of dead tree removal. It seemed as if it was pretty safe but it seems as though maybe it’s not. Such a shame to lose these iconic trees.

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