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Special Blankets Helped Save World's Biggest Trees

Recent controlled burns also kept sequoias safe in California
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2021 11:14 AM CDT
Special Blanket Helped Save World's Biggest Tree
This photo shows the giant sequoia known as General Sherman with its base wrapped in a fire-resistant blanket at Sequoia National Forest in California.   (Southern Area Blue Incident Management Team via AP)

(Newser) – The general is safe, for now. The reference is to the world's biggest tree, known as General Sherman, in California's Sequoia National Park, reports NPR. Encroaching wildfires had forest workers scrambling to protect the ancient trees last week, and their efforts appear to have paid off. Not only is Sherman safe, but the famous "Four Guardsmen"—sequoias that form a natural entryway to the forest—also were saved from the KNP Complex Fire, notes the AP. One tactic employed by firefighters seemed to draw the most attention: They wrapped the base of the trees in aluminum-based blankets to ward off flames.

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The strategy has long been used for structures, but the principle applies to the trees as well. "We basically told the fire crews to treat all our special sequoias like they were buildings and wrap them all up, and rake all the litter away and roll away the heavy logs," Christy Brigham of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks tells CNN. However, another tactic may have played a larger role in protecting the trees—controlled burns, notes the SFGate. Mark Garrett of the National Park Service says the agency deliberately set (and closely monitored) a fire as recently as 2019 in 400 acres surrounding General Sherman.

Controlled burns help get rid of vegetation and organic debris, known as duff, that can intensify fires. "We don't want that duff catching on fire and smoldering long term at the base of those trees," says firefighter Jon Wallace, per NPR. It could "start cooking the roots." As for the General Sherman, the tree is considered the largest living one in the world by volume, notes the Los Angeles Times. It stands 275 feet tall and is more than 2,000 years old—two big reasons it's a major tourist draw for the park. (Read more giant sequoias stories.)

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