General Grant tree, world’s second-largest, is safe from California wildfires

September 17, 2015

By: The Guardian

While 3,741 firefighters continue to ensure the safety of California residents by keeping in check the Rough fire – one of California’s 12 currently burning wildfires – firefighters for the US Park Service have been tasked with keeping something else safe: the world’s second-largest tree.

The General Grant tree, as it’s known to its many admirers, is the only living thing Congress has named as a national shrine, according to the National Parks website. It is a memorial to American men and women who have given their lives while serving. It is named for Ulysses S Grant, the union army general and president of the United States.

The tree can be found in General Grant Grove, a section of the Kings Canyon national park. And it’s surrounded by other giant sequoia trees, some of which are 3,000 years old. Millions of people visit the General Grant tree and those surrounding it, according to Mike Theune, Kings Canyon national park fire information and education specialist.

“It’s really important for us to make sure that those values are protected,” Theune said. “They mean so many things to so many people worldwide. We have visitors that come to us that show us pictures of their parents visiting the tree and want to have that same experience.”

Now, the nearby Rough fire has threatened not just the General Grant tree but other important sites, including the Wilsonia historic district (a neighborhood of historic cabins), a fallen sequoia tree called the Fallen Monarch, and the sixth-largest Sequoia tree in the world, the Boole tree.

The Rough fire began on 31 July at approximately 7pm because of lightning. It has spread to 139,133 acres and 40% of its perimeter has been contained. As of Tuesday it has injured seven firefighters and destroyed three structures. Also as of Tuesday, the fire has begun moving away from the Sierra Nevada’s giant sequoia trees, according to the AP.

Thus far, the firefighters of Engine 51 have ensured the safety of the sequoia trees. They “patrol that area”, look out for any burning embers from the nearby fire, and “ensure that nothing happens to that tree or the surrounding trees”.

“They’re the local crew, so this is their backyard,” Theune said.

Theune credits some of their success to their “active field management program”, which they work on year round in order to ensure the safety of the trees. They remove underbrush “using hands and good old-fashioned hard work” and “fight fire with fire” by setting prescribed burns. They also have sprinklers set up around some of the trees, including the Boole tree.

By: The Guardian

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