Yosemite wildfire doubles in size, threatens over 500 giant sequoias

A wildfire burning in the southern part of Yosemite National Park more than doubled in size over the weekend, the latest blaze to threaten the world’s largest trees as climate change increases the intensity of fires.

The Mariposa Grove, home to more than 500 mature giant sequoias and the largest of its kind in the park, closed Thursday after visitors reported spotting smoke from the Washburn Fire near a trail. As of Sunday evening, the fire had grown to just above three square miles.

“The fire is burning in difficult terrain with continuous heavy dead and down fuels in and around the fire,” Nancy Phillipe, a Yosemite fire information spokeswoman, said in a statement Sunday. “This also presents significant safety hazards to firefighters.”

Fire management staffers were working to preserve the trees by removing fuels around the sequoias and using sprinkler systems to increase humidity around the trees, among other things, according to Phillipe. She told the Associated Press that first responders were using “every tactic imaginable” to contain the blaze, including airdropping fire retardant.

About 1,600 people — almost all tourists — were evacuated Friday from the nearby community of Wawona, Calif., and the local campground.

No injuries, structural losses or critical damage to the sequoias had been reported as of Sunday evening, Phillipe said. All the named trees, including the 209-foot Grizzly Giant and the Bachelor and Three Graces, remained safe.

“That is one of the main priorities, is protecting that grove and all the history that’s associated with it,” she said.

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