Northern California wildfires may have killed hundreds of giant sequoias as they swept through groves of the majestic monarchs in the Sierra Nevada, an official said Wednesday. "It's heartbreaking," Christy Brigham, head of resources management and science for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, told the AP. The lightning-caused KNP Complex Fire that erupted on Sept. 9 has burned into 15 giant sequoia groves in the park, Brigham said. Most saw low- to medium-intensity fire behavior that the sequoias have evolved to survive, Brigham said. However, it appeared that two groves—including one with 5,000 trees—were seared by high-intensity fire that can send up 100-foot flames capable of burning the canopies of the towering trees. That leaves the monarchs at risk of going up "like a horrible Roman candle," Brigham said.
Two burned trees fell in Giant Forest—which is home to about 2,000 sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree, considered the world's largest by volume. However, the most notable trees survived, and Brigham said the grove appeared to be mostly intact. Firefighters have taken extraordinary measures to protect the sequoias by wrapping fire-resistant material around the bases of some giants, raking and clearing vegetation around them, installing sprinklers, and dousing some with water or fire-retardant gel. However, the full extent of the damage won't be known for months, Brigham said. Firefighters are still occupied protecting trees, homes, and lives or can't safely reach steep, remote groves that lack roads or even trails, she said. The KNP Complex Fire was only 11% contained Thursday after burning 134 square miles of forest.
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