Hot, dry conditions are making it harder for firefighters trying to protect Yosemite’s giant sequoias

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The Washburn Fire has ballooned to at least 4,261 acres since it was reported last week, with containment at about 23%, according to an update Wednesday from Inciweb, an national wildfire information clearinghouse.

More than 1,000 fire crew personnel are fighting the blaze, which has been spreading close to the giant sequoias as well as a small community that was forced to evacuate last week.

“The more than 500 mature sequoias of the Mariposa Grove are adjacent to these fuels and have so far avoided serious damage from the Washburn Fire,” fire officials wrote in the update. “Most of these trees are over 2000-years-old and have experienced fire many times throughout their lives.”

On Thursday, temperatures are expected to remain warm and dry with light to moderate winds, creating conditions that could potentially fuel the flames even more. Temperatures will be in the 90s, with relative humidity in the 20-30% range, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.

“A persistent weather pattern for the next several days will support active-to-very active fire behavior in heavy dead and down fuels,” fire officials wrote. “Continued warming and drying over the next several days will bring additional fire growth and smoke production where control lines have yet to be constructed.”

To protect the 209-foot-tall Grizzly Giant sequoia, fire crews installed a sprinkler system to dampen the ground around it with water from a small pool feeding sprinklers set up near the tree’s base, footage from Yosemite Fire and Aviation Management shows.

The cause of the fire has not been determined yet, but park superintendent Cicely Muldoon said earlier this week, “There was no lightning on that day, so it’s a human-start fire and it’s under investigation.”

Wildfires have been scorching western US land in recent years, and the flames have become more common due to worsening drought conditions fueled by climate change. In California alone, more than 2.5 million acres were destroyed in nearly 9,000 fires last year, according to Cal Fire.

Millions of acres burned in Alaska

Meanwhile, nearly 3 million acres have already been burned in Alaska this season, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center Wild Fire Dashboard. The state saw 84 fires this week alone.

“Right now, as far as acres burned, it is the eighth largest season since 1950, and I don’t think we have records going back further than that,” said Pam Szatanek, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

And while next month might bring some relief, Szatanek said that’s not a guarantee.

“We are entering a wetter phase, but it’s not always consistent that we will get the rains in August when we have a fire season,” she said.

The Upper Talarik Fire has destroyed an exploration supply camp in the Pebble deposit area about 17 miles northwest of Iliamna and Newhalen, according to the owners.

The summer work program at the camp had just been completed when the fire hit over the July 4 weekend, Mike Heatwole at Pebble Limited Partnership told CNN.

The fire has scorched more than 9,000 acres, the Alaska Wildland Fire Information Map Series shows.

CNN’s Taylor Romine, Paradise Afshar and Jennifer Henderson contributed to this report.

July 14, 2022 at 02:44PM

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