The Washburn Fire is burning through areas of Yosemite National Park, just south of Yosemite Valley. As of Tuesday evening, the fire had consumed roughly 3,500 acres. The Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, trees more than 3,000 years old, has areas within the footprint of the fire, causing many ecologists and lovers of those massive, ancient trees to worry. But efforts over the years to reduce fuel at the base of the trees seem to have worked, with Yosemite forest ecologist Garret Dickman telling a local news outlet the trees should be spared the worst of the damage.
“The grove itself right now seems to be in pretty good shape,” said Dickman, who on Sunday surveyed the western part of the grove, which was also the eastern flank of the Washburn Fire. “I walked through all the parts that burned and did not see any mortality. Some of the trees had some burn on them, but the level of burn was well within their ability to handle it.”
Some groves of giant sequoias much further south near Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks were wrapped with foil last year during fires in a desperate bid to prevent them from burning. That hasn’t been necessary however with the Washburn Fire.
“The really obvious takeaway is that we’ve been preparing for this fire for 50 years. And that preparation is saving these trees,” he said. “We haven’t had to wrap trees or really put firefighters at tremendous risk. They’ve been able to engage safely because those fuel reduction treatments have proven to be so effective.”
Fire authorities say the blaze was caused by people and they’re investigating with significant resources brought to bear. There was no lightning the day the fire started, so there is little reason to expect natural causes.
Areas outside the Mariposa Grove are burning hot and do not enjoy the same fuel reduction as the grove of ancient trees, but those areas need to burn, as they haven’t seen fire for more than 130 years at this point.
But the beloved giants of Mariposa are safe for now. With the lesson that fuel reduction works hopefully a beacon of light in these wildfire-choked summers.