As many as 3,600 large giant sequoias perished in the flames of twin wildfires that ignited during a lightning storm in mid-September and rampaged through 27 groves of the behemoths in the southern Sierra Nevada, officials said during a media briefing Friday.
More than two dozen groves of the towering trees were scorched as the KNP Complex and Windy fires exploded through parched vegetation, exacerbated at times by fierce winds and thunderstorms.
The somber news was delivered in the Grant Grove of Kings Canyon National Park, in the shadow of the General Grant Tree — considered the second largest tree on Earth. Last month, the massive tree, which rises more than 260 feet, was still swaddled in a fire-resistant aluminum blanket to protect it from the the still-active KNP Complex fire that torched more than 88,300 acres in rugged country in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
Though it’s no longer a threat, the KNP — still just 75% contained — continues to chew through pockets of heavy fuel.
Meanwhile, crews have fully contained the Windy fire to the south, which burned upward of 97,500 acres in the Tule River Indian Reservation and Sequoia National Forest.
The fires burned into at least 27 groves of the giant trees, natural wonders that can live more than 3,000 years and rise over 250 feet.
Officials had steeled themselves for the devastation, though the trees have survived — and thrived — amid wildfire for thousands of yeas.
With their towering canopies and thick bark, giant sequoias are adapted to withstand low-intensity fire, and even need it to reproduce. But ferocious climate-change-fueled fires of recent years have proved fatal to the trees that experts once thought were impervious to flames.
Officials on Friday said that between 2,261 and 3,637 sequoias with a base of 4 feet or more in diameter were either killed or so severely damaged that they would die in the next three to five years.