Wildfire nears famous site in California’s Yosemite National Park

Officials say none of Yosemite’s famous giant sequoias has been damaged by the blaze, but part of the park was closed.

Wildfire in Yosemite national Park
A firefighter walks near the Mariposa Grove as the Washburn Fire burns in Yosemite National Park, California, July 7, 2022 [National Park Service via AP Photo]

A portion of Yosemite National Park in the US state of California has been closed, officials said, as a wildfire is inching closer to a grove of famous giant sequoia trees.

Authorities blocked access to the park’s largest stand of sequoias and told visitors to leave nearby areas as firefighters battled the blaze, which had burned 101 hectares (250 acres) by 12pm local time (19:00 GMT) on Friday, officials said.

The trees are famous for their size and age, with one known as the Grizzly Giant dating back more than 3,000 years, a living symbol of the state’s rich natural history.

In April, US President Joe Biden signed an order to protect old-growth forests from wildfires after thousands of sequoias were destroyed the previous summer.

There have been no reports of severe damage in this week’s blaze, but park officials closed Mariposa Grove, home to more than 500 of the giant sequoias, on Thursday. The rest of the park is still open.

“There is some torching, but we’re not seeing that on the named trees that’s been reported yet,” said Nancy Phillipe, a Yosemite fire information spokesperson, referring to when fire kills a tree by igniting its canopy.

“Our priorities are certainly the giant sequoias and the community of Wawona”, which lies within the park, said Phillipe.

The fire has been named the Washburn Fire, after a trail in Yosemite where it was first reported on Thursday afternoon. It is not clear how the fire started, but crews hope to stop the fire from spreading further. No injuries have been reported so far.

“We’re really hitting it hard, as much as we can,” Phillipe said.

Wildfires are fast becoming a feature of life in the western United States as climate change exacerbates factors that have worsened fire conditions, such as prolonged droughts. Of the 10 largest fires in the state’s history, eight have occurred since 2017.

Those wildfires often occur in rural areas and have threatened some of the state’s most precious natural parks.

In July 2021, the Caldor Fire caused evacuations around Lake Tahoe, a spectacular lake and popular tourist destination, on the border between California and Nevada. The same month, fires broke out south of Yosemite, triggering evacuations.

Even during the month of January, a time of year when fires are typically less common, wildfires broke out in Big Sur, the world-famous California area defined by jagged coastlines, massive forests and sweeping vistas.

Recent blazes also have prompted evacuations throughout southwestern states, such as New Mexico, where hundreds were forced to flee their homes to escape the flames.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies