Giant sequoia trees continue to smolder for up to two years from past wildfires

Three Fires, giant sequoia trees
Three fires in two years that killed giant sequoia trees. The darker green areas represent groves of giant sequoias.

The U.S. Forest Service distributed information yesterday saying there are areas still burning in giant sequoia groves after wildfires that occurred in the Castle and Windy Fires of 2020 and 2021.

From the Sequoia National Forest, July 23, 2022:

Three fires were discovered this week, still smoldering inside the 2020 Castle and 2021 Windy Fires. Firefighters from Sequoia National Forest quickly reached two, and the third could not be reached safely due to the dense stand of fire-killed trees surrounding it.

The 1-acre Cougar Fire was found burning in the Red Hill Giant Sequoia Grove near the Tule River Indian Reservation boundary. Less than a half mile away, the ¼-acre Crawford Fire was reported by fire personnel responding to the Cougar Fire. Both were caused by a smoldering giant sequoia tree leftover from last summer’s Windy Fire.

Burning area in giant sequoia grove
Burning area in giant sequoia grove. US Forest Service. Photo distributed July 23, 2022. (Date of the photo and name of fire not provided)

Fireline was constructed by hand to stop each fire from spreading further. Heavy material: treetops, limbs, and trunks of previous fallen trees continue to smolder underneath these still-standing sequoia trees, weakened by the fire burning inside them. Fire personnel will continue to mop up and extinguish what they can without jeopardizing their safety by having to work under a burning giant sequoia tree. Neither the Cougar nor Crawford Fires pose an immediate risk to nearby communities.

On Thursday, a third fire was reported southeast of Camp Nelson in the Belknap Giant Sequoia Grove. Helicopter personnel located this fire deep inside the burned area of the 2020 Castle Fire. Due to its remote location, numerous standing hazard trees endangering fire personnel, and minimal chance of escape, this fire will be monitored from a distance and by air.

There have been several instances of smoldering trees, most of them large diameter giant sequoias, observed and reported in both the Castle and Windy Fire burned areas. These are likely to continue as dry conditions persist. Firefighter safety is a priority when determining how best to extinguish these types of fires. They may have to be monitored until the trees fall on their own and can be managed safely on the ground.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bob.

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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 “Giant sequoia trees continue to smolder for up to two years from past wildfires”

  1. Want to help the people who risk their lives working wildfires? Want to do something more than 20 $ / hr after 14 years of service – broken promises and broken career ladders? How about a call to your congress demanding their signature for Tims Act (H.R. 5631)? It does not do everything that is needed – but it is a foothold of a start. What a way to show appreciation – to please call your senators and congressional reps – and demand their signature for Tims Act. Thank you.

  2. I have never seen injuries to more than one person at a time, but they can cause severe burns as it takes awhile to work your leg out and usually other people’s help. I always treat ash pits like walking over ice or mud flats, probe ahead with a long stick (I think hand tools are too short), tread lightly, and use a hose to test the ground, if available. When spraying them out, be careful of steam geysers, they can be surprisingly powerful.

  3. I believe I mentioned it before, but massive roots can smolder for long periods too. I almost fell into one of these glowing hells on mop-up duty. I am concerned that baked soil above one of those roots could collapse and swallow up individuals or crews. Anyone have any links or references?


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