Firefighters climb giant sequoias on the Windy Fire

The blaze has burned more than 92,000 acres in California.

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9:02 a.m. PDT Oct. 3, 2021

smokejumpers climb giant sequoia tree Windy Fire
Rick Rataj and Tyler Anderson, USFS California Smokejumpers, climb a giant sequoia to investigate an area on the tree that is burning. Windy Fire, Sept. 30, 2021. BIA photo by Laura Scott.

Smokejumpers who usually arrive at a fire by parachute have climbed at least one of the giant sequoia trees on the Windy Fire in California to investigate areas on the tree that were burning. The initial reports were that they would climb an adjacent tree and use a fire hose to apply water onto the burning tree. Smokejumpers are trained to climb trees in order to retrieve hung up chutes, but this is not a common task for them, climbing a tree that is burning. Usually they simply cut it down.

But these huge trees that can live for more than 3,000 years have been suffering during the multi-year drought  and dry windy weather that has caused very low fuel moistures and intense fires that can penetrate the foot-thick bark. Last year the Castle Fire, just to the north (see map below), destroyed an estimated 7,500 to 10,600 large sequoias with trunk diameters of more than four feet, which was 10 to 14 percent of all large sequoias across the tree’s natural range in the Sierra Nevada.

Windy Fire map
The red line on the map was the perimeter of the Windy Fire at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2, 2021. The black line inside that, was the perimeter about 48 hours before. The darkest green areas are groves of giant sequoias.

The 92,473-acre Windy Fire has not spread as much in the last two days as it did earlier. Most of the additional growth was on the west side in and south of the Tule River Indian Reservation. During the Saturday night mapping flight the only large area with intense heat (dark red area on the map) was on the reservation.

Most of the north one-third of the fire has contained fireline, as do some of the areas around California Hot Springs, Pine Flat, and Sugarloaf Village but there is still work to do west of Fairview, on the Tule River Indian Reservation, and other locations near Sugarloaf Village.

Very dry daytime and nighttime conditions are expected to persist into early next week. On Sunday, the Kern River drainage will be very prone to strong winds, with gusts of 25–30 miles per hour; elsewhere, gusts will be up to 20 miles per hour. The result will be several hours of near-critical to critical fire weather conditions along the Kern River valley and adjacent slopes.

smokejumpers climb giant sequoia tree Windy Fire
Rick Rataj and Tyler Anderson, USFS California Smokejumpers, utilize a “bigshot” to launch ropes into the branches of a giant sequoia tree so they can climb up to investigate heat left by the Windy Fire on September 30, 2021. BIA photo by Laura Scott.
smokejumpers climb giant sequoia tree Windy Fire
Rick Rataj and Tyler Anderson, USFS California Smokejumpers, climb a giant sequoia to investigate an area on the tree that is burning. Windy Fire, Sept. 30, 2021. BIA photo by Laura Scott.
smokejumpers climb giant sequoia tree Windy Fire
Rick Rataj and Tyler Anderson, USFS California Smokejumpers, climb a giant sequoia to investigate an area on the tree that is burning. Windy Fire, Sept. 30, 2021. BIA photo by Laura Scott.

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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.

3 thoughts on “Firefighters climb giant sequoias on the Windy Fire”

  1. California State Parks have been climbing large coast redwood trees for years to put out fires. But climbing is always a last resort for safety reasons. If the fire is just out of range for fire hoses on the ground, we use galvenized pipe to get water a bit higher. If water can’t be sprayed high enough to reach burning areas, we use ropes to pull sprinklers up into trees. We get sprinklers well over 200 feet up. As with the smokejumpers you mention, when climbing, we always try to climb an adjacent tree that isn’t on fire for obvious safety reasons. We have saved many giants well over 1000 years old with these techniques.

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  2. This weekend was National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. I hope our fallen WILDLAND firefighting brothers were remembered. They definitely were in my home.

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