Giant sequoias haven't just adapted to survive periodic wildfires, they rely on them for reproduction—but fires of the last few years have been very different. Researchers assessing the damage from September's Castle fire in California say it killed hundreds, possibly more than a thousand, of the enormous redwoods, some of them more than 1,000 years old, on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the Los Angeles Times reports. With their extremely thick bark, the ancient trees can survive if just 5% of the crowns remain unscorched, but the Castle fire's victims had been completely burned. "To see those giant sequoia, monarch, blackened toothpicks was a gut punch," says Christy Brigham, science chief of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
"This fire could have put a noticeable dent in the world's supply of big sequoias," says Nate Stephenson, a research ecologist with the US Geological Survey. Stephenson, who blames the devastating fires of recent years on climate change and a lack of controlled burns, says tree-ring records show that the only comparable fire was in 1297—and 2020 was probably worse. But the news isn't all bad, reports the Sun Gazette: Some 6,000 acres of Giant Sequoia National Monument of the Sequoia National Forest burned at high severity, but in sequoia groves in the thousands of acres where the fire was less intense, the blaze may have activated sequoia seedling growth and cleared out smaller trees that would have competed with the young redwoods for water and light. (Read more giant sequoias stories.)