Specialist firefighters have saved the world’s last remaining wild stand of a prehistoric tree from wildfires that razed forests west of Sydney, officials say. Firefighters winched from helicopters to reach the cluster of fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines in a remote gorge in the Blue Mountains a week before a massive wildlife bore down, National Parks and Wildlife Service Director David Crust says. The firefighters set up an irrigation system to keep the so-called dinosaur trees moist and pumped water daily from the gorge as the blaze, which had burned out of control for more than two months, edged closer. Firefighting planes strategically bombed the fire front with fire retardant to slow its progress, the AP reports.
"The Wollemi Pine is a particularly important species and the fact that this is the only place in the world where they exist and they exist in such small numbers is really significant,” Crust says. New South Wales state Environment Minister Matt Kean says the operation saved the stand, although some plants were singed. "These pines outlived the dinosaurs, so when we saw the fire approaching we realized we had to do everything we could to save them," Kean says. The Wollemi Pine had only been seen in its fossilized form and was thought long extinct before the stand was found in 1994. The fire that threatened it was brought under control this week after razing more than 510,000 hectares. The fire also destroyed 90% of the 5,000-hectare Wollemi National Park, where the rare trees grow, Crust says.
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