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Sequoia National Parks’ Giant Forest Preserve is set to reopen to visitors this weekend, three months after a wildfire threatened one of its main attractions: the world’s largest tree.
The grove has been mostly closed since September 9, when lightning sparked the Paradise and Colony fires in both Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. (The grove briefly opened to visitors last weekend before closing again due to a winter storm.) The two fires would later merge. The resulting blaze, called the KNP Complex, ripped through the park, burning 88,307 acres of forest, chaparral, and grassland. The park only declared the fire 100% contained today, though some hotspots are still burning through the parks.
Especially hard-hit were the park’s giant sequoias. The world’s most massive trees, sequoias can reach heights of up to 300 feet and live for more than 3,000 years. Though the endangered trees are highly adapted to wildfires, with bark that can reach a thickness of two feet, the intense temperatures of modern forest fires have proven too much for some of them. According to the National Park Service, the KNP Complex killed or mortally wounded an estimated 2,380 large giant sequoias throughout the parks, most in the park’s Redwood Mountain Grove; the nearby Windy Fire, which burned through Sequoia National Forest, killed more, estimated at 1,250, while the 2020 Castle Fire killed hundreds more. In total, a park service report estimated that fires killed 13-19% of the world’s giant sequoias over the past two years.
The Giant Forest Preserve is home to some of the biggest examples of the species, with one individual, the General Sherman, believed by scientists to be the most massive single-stem tree on earth by volume. As the fire approached the grove in September, firefighters wrapped it and other nearby trees in fire-resistant blankets in a last-ditch attempt to protect them.
Currently, the parks plan to open the Giant Forest from Friday, December 17 to Monday, December 20 and Thursday, December 24 to Monday, January 3, but today’s planned opening has been delayed by this week’s winter storm, as personnel clear the park’s roads. According to Sequoia and Kings Canyon’s website, the parks’ hope to welcome visitors back to the grove sometime this weekend. Areas of the Giant Forest slated to open to visitors are the Giant Forest Museum, Beetle Rock, Sunset Rock, Big Trees Trail, Hazelwood Nature Trail, General Sherman Tree, Congress Trail, and Wolverton Picnic and Snowplay area.