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News for nerds

Expert firefighting, contingency planning, and gallons upon gallons of water mean that the stands of giant sequoia trees in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains appear to be safe for future generations.

The September 9th “Windy Fire,” started by a lighting strike, burned 25,000 acres in Peyrone Sequoia Grove and the Red Hill Grove before it converged on Sequoia National Park.

There, firefighters wrapped many of the famous trees such as “General Sherman” the largest tree on Earth by volume, in fire-resistant foil capable of withstanding 1,200°F.

“The fortunate thing is the Park Service has done a lot of prescribed burning in [the park] since the 1960s, and so it’s making their job a lot easier,” Jon Wallace, a chief firefighter said during a Sunday morning briefing. “There’s also a myriad of walking trails in there, which have given firefighters places to work off of,” he added.

“The structures in the Giant Forest, the museum, all the infrastructure around the General Sherman tree, that’s all got sprinklers on it, and firefighters are running those sprinklers pretty much nonstop to make sure everything stays wet. But right now, all the protection efforts in the Giant Forest are going really well,” he said.

A trip to Sequoia National Park teaches one that the giant conifers actually withstand fires very well, and many of those whose count of years stretch into the thousands would have endured many fires.

Their bark, like a giant spongy blanket, can be 32-inches thick, and protects them from the flames. The trees actually need levels of heat which only a fire can generate to release the seeds stored in their cones.

In practice then, sequoias are literally born in flames.

However with year after year of California drought conditions mixed with predictions that weather events like fires will become more severe with climate change, it pays to be safe, and according to California Times News, more than 600 firefighters were battling the blaze at one point, most of them working within the Trail of 100 Giants grove.