California firefighters gained ground Monday in the battle against a wildfire that poses a threat to a grove of giant sequoias and a small community in Yosemite National Park.
The Associated Press reports the Washburn Fire on the western flank of the Sierra Nevada had scorched about 4.2 square miles but was 22% contained as of Monday night, according to an incident update.
The fire was a threat to more than 500 mature sequoias in the park’s Mariposa Grove and the nearby community of Wawona, which has been evacuated.
The area in the southern portion of Yosemite was closed to visitors but the rest of the national park remained open.
Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley have been protected since President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation in 1864.
A sprinkler system was set up within the grove to maintain moisture, and there were no reports of severe damage to any named trees, including the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant.
The giant sequoias, native in only about 70 groves spread along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, were once considered impervious to flames but have become increasingly vulnerable as wildfires, fueled by a buildup of undergrowth from a century of fire suppression and the impact of drought exacerbated by climate change, have become more intense and destructive.
Lightning-sparked wildfires over the past two years have killed up to a fifth of the estimated 75,000 large sequoias, which are the biggest trees by volume and a major draw for tourists.
There was no obvious natural spark for the fire that broke out Thursday next to the park’s Washburn Trail. Smoke was reported by visitors walking in the grove.