Mariposa Grove Sequoias Poised to Survive Yosemite’s Washburn Fire

Photo: Garrett Dickman/NPS

The Washburn Fire continues to grow at an alarming pace in the Yosemite National Park. As of Tuesday morning, the fire sits at 3,221 acres burned with 22 percent containment. It has also pushed dense smoke into Yosemite National Park, which has already seen closures of the Wawona Campgrounds and Mariposa Grove.

Although the fire has burned through much of the area near Mariposa Grove, the largest collection of mature trees in the world, it looks like those trees should survive the flames.

Yosemite forest ecologist and firefighter Garrett Dickman told the SFGate that there has been little damage to the trees thus far and sparing a catastrophic event, they should survive the event.

“The grove itself right now seems to be in pretty good shape,” said Dickman to the SFGate. “I walked through all the parts that burned and did not see any mortality. … Some of the trees had some burn on them, but the level of burn was well within their ability to handle it.”

According to Dickman, the fire had not reached many of the famous trees in the grove like the Grizzly Giant, the Clothespin Tree, the California Tunnel Tree, and the Fallen Monarch. Firefighters installed a sprinkler system next to the Grizzly Giant and Galen Clark Tree to keep them safe from truly extreme fire. The Galen Clark Tree is expected to be in the fire footprint, but following these efforts by firefighters, it shouldn’t experience mortality.

Firefighters have conducted a heavy fuel treatment program in Mariposa Grove for 50 years, which has helped control the fire in the areas of the mature trees. But with the wildfire still burning, nothing should be taken for granted at this time. John Muir once called the sequoia trees of Mariposa Grove as “nature’s forest masterpiece, and so far as I know, the greatest of living things.”

Following the Castle Fire in 2020 and the recent Windy and KNP Complex fires in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, officials have estimated that 7,500 to 10,400 giant sequoias burned over the past 15 months. That accounts for roughly 13 to 19 percent of the world’s sequoias greater than 4 feet in diameter. The revelation illustrates the devastating impact of recent California wildfires on the wilderness.

Giant sequoia trees live exclusively in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, typically in the middle of California. These trees can grow taller than 300 feet and wider than 30 feet, a can live to 3,000 years old. Sequoias actually use wildfire to reproduce, with embers spreading their seedlings and thinning larger trees to allow sunlight to hit the smaller trees. But with recent wildfires burning at a higher intensity than ever seen by modern humans, the trees are seeing long-lasting harm.

Mariposa Grove has seen its fair share of turmoil over the past few years. In January 2021, a wind storm blasted through Yosemite National Park, toppling the massive trees and destroying buildings and infrastructure in the area. The grove also saw a 3-year closure from 2015 to 2018, where the entire region was upgraded – roads, trails and buildings – as well as four new miles of hiking trails.

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