Firefighters wrap Sequoia trees with foil blankets in hopes of protecting them from burning

Luz Pena Image
Saturday, September 18, 2021
Giant sequoias wrapped in protective foil as wildfires threaten trees
In an effort to save the giant sequoias, crews have applied a special fire-resistant wrap to the trees to save them from KNP Complex Fire.

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- The world's largest trees are in danger of burning at Sequoia National Park, leading firefighters to wrap them with a special fire blanket.

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"The fire blankets have been used for a long time to protect the structure," said Christy M Brigham, Chief Resources Management & Science, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.

Luz Pena: "What's the purpose of these fire blankets?"

Christy M Brigham: "Is to prevent ambers from getting into the trees or old fire scars. Those structure wraps are employed along with raking, removal of fuel and in some areas back burning."

The 1,500 to 2,000 year old trees adapt to fires, but researchers say the intensity of the latest wildfires overwhelmed many of these trees.

"We have this deficit of 100 plus years of just dead, wooded material in the ground. Then that sort of propagates fire behavior. When that occurs it burns more intense," said Alexis Bernal, UC Berkeley researcher.

VIDEO: Sierra Nevada Sequoias sprouting new life after battling drought, fires

Climate change has brewed up a storm for age old Sequoia trees, but the combination of droughts and extreme fires has allowed new seeds to bloom.

On the ground is a team of UC Berkeley scientists surveying the damage of the 2020 Castle Fire.

"The branches no longer exist and some of these Sequoias kind of blow themselves up during the fires," said Bernal.

According to Sequoia National Park, during the 2020 fire, 7,000 to 10,000 Sequoia trees burned. Brigham said that's about 10 to 14 percent of the Sequoia population at that park.

Brigham projects there could be about 2,000 Sequoia trees in danger as the flames of the KNP Complex Fire get closer.

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Scott Stephens, a professor of Fire Science at UC Berkeley and his team are looking for long term solutions to save the iconic trees.

"Seeing Sequoias that are 20 feet in diameter and probably experienced over 100 fires in their history and they survived them all. Then here comes 2020 bang, hits it and its dead. Then you look over another ridge and there is another 5 more, another ridge and there is 15 more," described Stephens.

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Professor Stephens believes several factors will play a key role in fire mitigation but getting ahead of forest restoration will be key.

"If we don't get through the forest restoration that we need we are never going to get out of this hole. We are going to be chasing our tails forever. My back-of-the-envelope calculation says we need to do 10 times more prescribed burning and restoration thinning than what we are doing annually," said Stephens.

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