A giant sequoia tree is still smoldering in California‘s Sequoia National Forest about 10 months after wildfires devastated the region, researchers discovered.
A bolt of lightning struck deep within the national forest in August 2020, resulting in the Castle Fire that spread into areas of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, which is home to some trees that have stood for over 2,000 years, such as “General Sherman,” the largest tree ever recorded.
“The fact areas are still smoldering and smoking from the 2020 Castle Fire demonstrates how dry the park is,” Leif Mathiesen, the assistant fire management officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon, told the Guardian.
It is not completely unusual for some patches of ember to remain burning months after a fire subsides because the inside of a tree can provide an oxygen-rich shelter for a fire to survive.
“With the low amount of snowfall and rain this year, there may be additional discoveries as spring transitions into summer,” Mathiesen added.
Mike Theune, fire information officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, said the vegetation in the area doesn’t “have the high moisture content that [could prevent fire].”
Fires in the Golden State’s Sierra Nevada mountains devastated thousands of acres of land in 2020, but the forest has stood for thousands of years and has survived many fires and droughts.
“But at the same time, we are seeing the impacts of climate change, high fire severity, and long-term extended drought periods,” Theune said.
Researchers in the early 1960s and 1970s found that areas where fires occurred had later flourished with sequoia saplings, leading to the discovery that giant sequoia trees depend on forest fires to release their seeds.
Controlled burns have been practiced by Native Americans in California for thousands of years as a type of land husbandry.
Low-intensity fires can be regenerative and prevent more devastating forest fires from devastating the landscape, Theune said.
California recorded its largest single forest fire in history on Sept. 4, 2020, burning at least 286,519 acres of land.
The climate crisis and uptick in human development are significant contributing factors to more intense forest fires in recent years, scientists say.
Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the only licensed forester in Congress, said in September 2020 that Congress had failed to provide the U.S. Forest Service the tools to expand the pace and scale of forestry management projects.
California passed laws in 2018 committing over $200 million to fire prevention efforts.
The state is engaged in a partnership with the federal government, environmentalists, and the logging industry called the Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative, which aims to cut trees in 2.4 million acres of forest in a process called forest thinning. That involves crews removing small trees to reduce the amount of fuel in dry forests. Forest management teams also plan to participate in more controlled burning operations to reduce extreme blazes.