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Study Shows Central CA Wildfire Wiped Out Up To 10,000 Giant Sequoias

USFS Inciweb
File photo - The Castle Fire, burning south of Camp Nelson, Thurs, Sept 17 2020

We’re still learning the devastation caused by last year’s wildfire season in California. The National Park Service just completed a study that estimates ten to 14 percent of our state’s mature giant Sequoias were destroyed in a single wildfire.

The trees were wiped out by the Castle Fire, which burned 273 square miles of tall timber in Sequoia National Park which sits on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and is named after the tree, a redwood, They can grow to 200 feet tall, and live for more than 2-thousand years. 

Christy Brigham is the Chief of Resources Management and Science at the park and conducted the study. It showed between 7,500 and 10,000 mature giant Sequoias were lost in that one blaze, and Brigham says she’s was shocked by the numbers.

“Surprised and devastated, honestly, Mike.  It’s...um...it’s really upsetting,” says Brigham.

Brigham says many of these trees had survived dozens, if not hundreds of wildfires in their lifetimes.  As she puts it, they’re not weaklings.  But, she says, a combination of climate change and fire suppression techniques that were popular in the 20th century have created a recipe for the perfect firestorm---and the loss of this many Sequoias will only make the environmental situation worse.

“These trees are very large. They sequester a lot of carbon. So I think we will see a loss on that front as well,” says Brigham.

The groves also provide critical habitat for native wildlife and help protect the watershed that supplies farms and communities on the San Joaquin Valley floor.