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Wildfire near Yosemite National Park threatens its largest grove of sequoia trees

Seen from unincorporated Mariposa County, Calif., a helicopter drops water on the Washburn Fire burning in Yosemite National Park on Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Seen from unincorporated Mariposa County, Calif., a helicopter drops water on the Washburn Fire burning in Yosemite National Park on Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A wildfire near Yosemite National Park is causing firefighters to set up near a grove of giant sequoia trees that includes the famous Grizzly Giant.

First reports of the Washburn Fire came Thursday near the park's Washburn Trail and Mariposa Grove of sequoias, according to a statement from the National Park Service and California's Interagency Management Team 13.

As of Monday morning, the fire has burned 2,340 acres and is not contained at all. The cause of the fire remains unknown but is under investigation.

The Mariposa Grove is home to more than 500 mature giant sequoia trees and is the largest sequoia grove in the park. The most well-known tree — the Grizzly Giant — stands 209 feet high tall and is the second-tallest tree in Yosemite, with many people stopping to take photographs of it.

Protection of the sequoia trees has been proactive, with a large sprinkler system put in place to help increase the humidity around the trees and reduce the risk of ground fire.

In addition to the sprinkler system, material that could fuel the fires has been removed from around the trees, and previous prescribed burns could help as well. Aluminum-based blankets that previously have been wrapped around sequoias during wildfires have not been put on this grove of trees.

The Washburn Fire is burning in difficult terrain, "with continuous heavy dead and down fuels in and around the fire," according to fire management officials.

A lot of this material includes dead trees from a period of tree mortality between 2013 and 2015. Some of them are fallen while others are still standing, and both "create hazardous conditions for firefighters.

Evacuations were ordered for the Wawona community and Wawona Campground near the area where the fire is burning.

Though Mariposa Grove and the area where the fire is burning are closed, the rest of Yosemite remains open, with smoky conditions expected.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.