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California national park wraps ancient trees in foil amid record-breaking wildfire

California national park wraps ancient trees in foil amid record-breaking wildfire
Officials used blankets made of aluminium foil to cover signs and trees in Sequoia National Park

Fire crews in California have wrapped the base of the world’s largest tree in a thick blanket of aluminium foil in the hopes of saving it from a raging wildfire.

The massive KNP Complex fire is tearing through Sequoia National Park threatening its forest of ancient sequoias including the 275-ft General Sherman. The largest tree on the planet by volume, General Sherman has ground circumference of 103ft.

Fire service officials have also wrapped the Giant Forest Museum and other buildings in the park in foil to protect them from the flames, National Park Service spokeswoman, Rebecca Paterson, said.

The heat-resistant metal sheets helps trees and structures to withstand intense heat for short periods and has been deployed for several years by US officials.

Pictures, shared by local businesses in the area, showed fire crews wrapping wooden signs and trees in the national park. Sequoia National Park was closed to visitors earlier this week as the fire continued to encroach.

Nearly 500 personnel have been deployed to tackle the blaze, according to government data.

“Fires are burning in both Sequoia National Park and Sequoia National Forest putting the areas off-limits to visitors for now. These are rapidly evolving situations with crews working hard to reduce the fires’ impacts on our beautiful giant sequoias,” tweeted Visit Visalia, a tourism platform in the region.

Two separate fires are currently burning in Sequoia National Park – the Colony and Paradise fires. The Colony Fire is likely to reach a giant forest of 2,000 sequoia trees within days, fire officials said.

It has been a long summer of overlapping wildfires in California and other western states. Some 77 large fires are burning across the US, destroying nearly 3.2 million acres.

Active fire behavior has been reported on large fires in California, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Oklahoma, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The Paradise fire is burning in an area of steep inclines meaning that fire crews only have limited access on the ground to douse the flames. They have resorted to extensive aerial water and flame-retardant drops on both fires.

However there has been some respite for firefighters as the Complex has not grown significantly in the last 24 hours, fire spokeswoman Katy Hooper said.

Last year, thousands of sequoia trees – some that have stood for thousands of years and have grown as tall as high-rise apartment blocks – were reduced to ash by a wildfire.

In 2020, the Castle Fire destroyed an estimated 7,500-10,600 large sequoias, the National Park Service said.

Giant sequoias have adapted to smaller fires, that have long been part of California’s natural landscape, and thrive in such conditions. Controlled fires allows the trees to release seeds from their cones and clears vegetation to allow young sequoias to grow.

The climate crisis is driving ever more destructive and volatile wildfires in the US West and in other regions of the world.