California’s Sequoia Trees Are Being Covered in Blankets to Protect Them From Wildfires

The Sequoia National Forest is being scorched, and firefighters are hoping some of the world’s most iconic trees will survive.
September 17, 2021, 6:36pm
Left: General Sherman, a Giant Sequoia in Sequoia National Forest in California, is wrapped with flame-resistant blankets. Right: A sign announces the closure of Sequoia National Park, where the KNP Complex Fires are burning, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021
Left: General Sherman, a Giant Sequoia in Sequoia National Forest in California, is wrapped with flame-resistant blankets. (NPS) Right: A sign announces the closure of Sequoia National Park, where the KNP Complex Fires are burning, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in Tulare County, California(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

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The world’s tallest living tree is being wrapped in a fire-resistant blanket because two wildfires are about to collide right where it’s been growing for thousands of years.

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General Sherman, a Giant Sequoia tree that stands more than 275 feet tall and more than 36 feet in diameter, is at-risk of being scorched as California wildfires continue to rage in Sequoia National Forest. Both the Paradise fire and the Colony fire, collectively known as the KNP Complex, are exploding in size at an exponential rate and ravaging national forest land. 

To protect the General Sherman—as well as other treasured Sequoias in the area, firefighters have put flame-retardant blankets, which look like giant pieces of aluminum foil, around their bases. 

“It’s a very significant area for many, many people, so a lot of special effort is going into protecting this grove,” Rebecca Paterson, a spokeswoman for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, told the Los Angeles Times

The General Sherman Sequoia is estimated to be between 2,300 and 2,700 years old, with many surrounding trees in the area similarly as old. While the trees have evolved to withstand fire to a certain extent, climate change has caused fires to spark more frequently and at a more intense rate—meaning fire crews are needing to resort to new methods in hopes of minimizing damage. 

"These trees are adaptive to fire, but not intense fire,” Steven Bekkerus, a public affairs officer at the U.S. Forest Service told ABC 30. “So we want to do everything we can to protect these trees as well as all these historic cabins that are on the National Park." 

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The enormous blankets can protect structures—or in this unique case, trees—for a short amount of time, and firefighters hope they’ll buy them time to fight the flames. As of Friday morning, there are 482 responders dispatched to fight the KNP Complex, but that number is expected to grow as the flames continue to grow.

The blankets have also worked before. Last month as South Lake Tahoe burned, some cabins, homes, and other structures in the residential ski town were wrapped in similar blankets. Most survived the flames, while the ones left bare were decimated. 

The iconic Sequoia trees’ land isn’t the only area at risk. Officials have issued an evacuation warning for the small village of Three Rivers in the Sequoia National Forest, and all NPS staff in the area’s housing units are under mandatory evacuation orders

Lighting strikes started the fires on Sept. 9, according to officials. And now, the combination of climate-crisis-induced drought, mountainous terrain, and heavy bush are making the KNP Complex particularly difficult to fight, officials said. As of Friday, the complex has burned nearly 9,500 acres and was zero percent contained. 

And just south of the KNP Complex, the Windy Fire is raging through the park as well as the Tule River Reservation—home to the native indigenous Tule River Tribe. That blaze burned nearly 5,500 acres and remains 0 percent contained as well, according to officials.