A wildfire in California’s Sierra Nevada continued to spread Sunday, with sprinklers deployed to protect Mariposa Grove’s beloved giant sequoia trees.
The fire in Yosemite National Park was measured at 2,044 acres by evening. It was not contained, and is likely to continue to grow amid light winds and warm conditions, US Forest Service officials said Sunday.
The beloved trees have not been wrapped in fire-fighting paper, as had been reported, Yosemite National Park Superintendent Cicely Muldooni said Sunday.
Instead, park officials have turned to portable sprinklers to protect the more than 500 sequoias, which hold a unique place in American history. President Abraham Lincoln set aside the forest, along with Yosemite Valley, in 1864 for “public use, resort and recreation,” according to the park service. It was the first time that the government ordered the protection of scenic areas for public benefit.
More than 150 years later, experts are working to save them. “They’re using a combination of fuel removal around the base of the trees and they’re putting sprinklers to change the moisture around the base of the trees,” said Jay C. Nichols, spokesman for the Interagency Response Team against fires in the park
Still, the fire, which has been burning since Thursday and is formally known as the Washburn Fire, has damaged some of the trees, which can be seen from the ground. But so far none seem to have been cut down.
The National Weather Service measured temperatures in Mariposa, Calif., about 100 miles east of San Francisco, in the 90s Sunday afternoon. Similar temperatures were expected earlier in the week.
Summer temperatures were spurred by an abundance of fuel, officials said. Garrett Dickman, a Yosemite National Park biologist, explained the problem in simple terms: “There’s a lot of wood on the ground, and that wood is smoking.”
Wood on the ground includes dead trees and branches from a 2013-15 kill.
“This also presents significant safety hazards for firefighters,” who may have to walk on unstable terrain and watch for falling trees and branches, according to the federal incident overview.
The forest was forbidden to visitors Sunday and likely won’t reopen as long as the fire remains a threat.
The closure includes the Wawona area and Wawona Road south of Yosemite West, park officials said. The one in the park south entrance it was also closed. The rest of Yosemite was open, but permits were required to drive during peak hours.
The residents of the You’ve seen the area they were under mandatory evacuation orders.
Park visitor Cara Exten was told to evacuate, an order she said made perfect sense. “When we went down to Yosemite Valley, ash was raining down on us,” he said.
Meanwhile, federal crews were in Mariposa Grove to install and operate sprinklers, which Nichols said were like the ones many people have at home, “except bigger.”
crews paid special attention to the 209-foot giant Grizzlythe second tallest sequoia in the forest, ensuring that the spray from the sprinklers reached the area at its base.
The other forest stars, the California Tunnel Tree, the Bachelor and the Three Graces, and the Fallen Monarch, were unscathed so far.
Fire-extinguishing sheet was not yet used, but it came in handy when crews defensively wrapped another national treasure, the Butterfly Grove Cabin used by Galen Clark. He was the keeper of the grove under Lincoln’s authority.
Erick Mendoza, Michelle Acevedo and Steven Louie contributed.