Two wildfires are threatening two national parks in central California that are home to the biggest trees on the planet, giant sequoias. Sequoia National Park was shut down Monday and its staff evacuated due to the approaching KNP Complex fires — known separately as the Colony and Paradise fires.
Both fires, which were sparked during lightning storms last week, are burning in the direction of Giant Forest, which is home to more 2,000 giant sequoia trees, including the famed General Sherman Tree.
"There’s no imminent threat to Giant Forest but that is a potential," says Mark Ruggiero, fire information officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, speaking to the Associated Press.
Kings Canyon National Park, also home to many of the giant trees, remains open for now.
Giant sequoias can withstand fire, and many of the trees in the grove likely have multiple times. However, intense wildfires can also kill the trees — and last year's Castle Fire is believed to have killed about 10% of the trees in California, or between 7,000 and 11,000 of them, as the New York Times notes.
"The Paradise Fire has a new acreage of 2,531 acres, and the Colony Fire has a new acreage of 493 acres, for a combined total for the KNP Complex of 3,024, with 0% containment," the parks said in a statement Tuesday.
"Last night, the Paradise Fire made a downhill run, and crossed the middle fork of the Kaweah River and the Generals Highway. As a result of this, the parks are evacuating employees from the Ash Mountain Headquarters Complex and nearby housing areas."
The firefight on the KNP Complex has been hindered by multiple factors, including inaccessible terrain and poor visibility and air quality.
"In the case of the Paradise Fire, extremely steep topography and a total lack of access has prevented any ground crew operations, and in the case of the Colony Fire, only a limited amount of ground crew access has been possible," the statement reads.
Further north, the massive Dixie Fire is now 75% contained, and the Caldor Fire near Lake Tahoe is 68% contained.
Wildfires have now scorched over two million acres (3,125 square miles) of land in California so far this year.
Photo: Sarah Brown