The Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees, one of the most popular and breathtaking landmarks in Yosemite National Park, reopened to the public Wednesday morning, nearly four weeks after a major wildfire broke out nearby.
The Washburn Fire was 97% contained, fire officials reported Wednesday, having burned 4,886 acres. The blaze, which began July 7, had more than 1,600 firefighters at its peak. But Wednesday, only 65 remained to mop up.
“It looks great. We are super-excited. At the shuttle bus stop there were probably 200 people waiting to get in this morning,” said Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman. “The fire came very close, but the sequoias look great. We’re so thankful.”
When the Washburn Fire was first discovered, it sparked fears of an environmental catastrophe. Massive lightning-sparked fires over the past two years further south in Sequoia National Park and Sequoia National Forest killed between 10,000 and 14,000 giant sequoias — nearly 20% of all the remaining wild giant sequoias on Earth.
Giant sequoias at the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park on Aug. 1, 2022. (Source: National Park Service)
But the news from the Washburn Fire has been nearly all good: After a major attack from firefighters early in the blaze, not one of the roughly 500 giant sequoias at the Mariposa Grove, some of which tower more than 200 feet tall and are more than 2,000 years old, died in the fire. No homes in the nearby Wawona community burned. There were no injuries or deaths.
The air quality in Yosemite on Wednesday was good, Gediman noted, and all the park’s entrances were open.
In fact, none of the facilities at the Mariposa Grove, including interpretive panels, restrooms, trails, wooden boardwalks, water systems and other features that were replaced four years ago as part of a $40 million renovation effort, suffered any damage from the fire.
“I think there’s one 25 mph sign on the road into the grove that partly burned,” said Garrett Dickman, a Yosemite forest ecologist and sequoia expert. “It really is astounding.”
The Mariposa Grove’s sequoias — first set aside for protection by Abraham Lincoln in 1864 — are among the largest living things on earth, reaching up to 285 feet tall, with bark more than a foot thick. Individual trees standing in the grove today stood there when Julius Caesar ruled the Roman Empire, and Alexander the Great led armies through Western Asia.
Dickman and other fire experts say that three things led to the successful outcome from the fire. When the fire started there were no other major blazes in California, so a large number of firefighters, engines, helicopters and other equipment were available. Second, the weather was not extreme. Temperatures were warm, but not searing, and winds were moderate mostly.
And most important, he noted, Yosemite crews have conducted 21 controlled burns in and around the Mariposa Grove since 1971. Those recreated natural conditions that occurred centuries ago when lightning strikes and burning by native tribes made fire a common part of the environment in the Sierra. The controlled burns and some …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News
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