One of California's most famous groves of giant sequoias is threatened by a small but intense wildfire burning in Sequoia National Park, officials said Wednesday.
The roughly 7,000-acre KNP fire complex is burning about a mile away from the Giant Forest, home to the largest tree on earth by volume, dubbed General Sherman, said Rebecca Paterson, a public information officer for the National Park Service in Three Rivers, near where the fire is burning.
About 115 employees have been evacuated from the park, along with residents of the eastern part of the town, Paterson said. The park was closed Tuesday as the fire began to threaten the Giant Forest, one of about 30 such groves and most visited, she said.
The fires making up the complex grew significantly on Tuesday with zero containment, the federal InciWeb fire information system said Wednesday. The complex, made of two blazes that are burning near each other, was started by lightning strikes on September 10. It is burning in steep canyons, fueled by dry timber and chaparral.
Dry conditions and winds of up to 40 kilometers per hour (25 mph) may help the fire expand in coming days, the InciWeb system said.
Air quality in the area is poor, and parts of Three Rivers where people have not been ordered to leave have been warned to be ready to evacuate, Paterson said.
The National Park Service has been conducting prescribed burns in the area, which officials hope will ameliorate the impact on the giant sequoias if the complex does reach them, she said.
Sequoias depend on fire as part of their life cycle, but some massive, intense fires fueled by climate change may do more damage than in the past.
"Even if fire does reach the Giant Forest, that does not mean it will be devastating once it gets there," Paterson said.
Three Rivers is near the Ash Mountain Main Entrance to Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, according to the town's website. It is home to about 2,400 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.