An aerial image of the extent of wildfires in California.

2021 California wildfires: Giant Sequoia Killers

Posted by Speakeasy News > Wednesday 20 October 2021 > In the News

In September 2021 in California, two wildfires, one called the Colony Fire and the other Paradise Fire merged together to became the KNP Complex, a terrifying front of flames.  These big fires burned through the Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada that is home to some of the largest trees in the world, which also include General Sherman, the world’s largest tree in volume.

Drive-through giant Sequoia tree, California_ Between 1980 and 2006_Library of Congress

Giant sequoias grow naturally only in the Sierra Nevada. These are the world's most massive trees, they can soar to more than 250 feet (76 metres) with trunks 20 feet (6 metres) in diameter, and live for thousands of years.

The fire's impact on giant sequoia groves was mixed.

Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, they need low-intensity fire to reproduce. In fact, flames eliminate the sequoias' competitors from the forest, help them thrive, releasing through their heat seeds from their cones and create clearings that allow young trees to grow.

But recent blazes have been much more intense because climate change.

It appeared that two groves — including one with 5,000 trees — were seared by high-intensity fire that can send up 100-foot (30-meter) flames capable of burning the canopies of the towering trees. Two burned trees fell in Giant Forest, which is home to about 2,000 sequoias.

Firefighters have taken extraordinary measures

Firefighters have taken extraordinary measures to protect the sequoias by wrapping fire-resistant material around the bases of some giants. Aluminium wrapping can withstand intense heat for a short period of time. Federal officials say they have been using this material for several years throughout the western United States to protect sensitive structures from flames. Firemen also cleared vegetation around the trees, installing sprinklers and dousing some with water or fire retardant gel.

However, the full extent of the damage won't be known for months. Firefighters are still occupied protecting trees, homes and lives, or can't safely reach steep, remote groves that lack roads or even trails, she said.

General Sherman Tree

According to the National Park Service, General Sherman is over 2,000 years old. (At that time, Rome, was on the rise and was the leading power in the western Mediterranean). It is considered the largest known tree in the world by volume with 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic metres). It rises 275 feet (84 metres) high and has a circumference of 103 feet (31 metres) above the ground.

The General Sherman was named after General William Tecumseh Sherman, who was a Union general during the Civil War, playing a crucial role in the victory over the Confederate States.

While the General Sherman sequoia is the largest currently living tree, it is not the largest historically recorded tree. The Lindsey Creek tree, was more than 90,000 cubic feet (2,500 cubic metres) almost twice the volume of General Sherman, was reportedly felled by a storm in 1905.

The General Sherman Tree is not the tallest known living tree on Earth, that distinction belongs to the Hyperion tree, a Coast redwood.

It is not the widest, both the largest cypress and largest baobab have a greater diameter, nor the oldest known living tree on Earth, some as the great Basin bristlecone pine are over 5,000 years old.