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California fires threaten giant sequoias

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A 2020 photo of fire burning in the hollow of an old-growth redwood tree in California's Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Photo: AAP
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American firefighters have wrapped the base of the world’s largest tree in a fire-resistant blanket as they try to save a famous grove of gigantic old-growth sequoias from wildfires burning in California’s rugged Sierra Nevada.

The colossal General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest, some of the other sequoias, the Giant Forest Museum and other buildings were wrapped as protection against the possibility of intense flames, fire spokeswoman Rebecca Paterson says.

The aluminium wrapping can withstand intensive heat for short periods. Federal officials say they have used the material for several years throughout the US west to protect sensitive structures from flames.

The Colony Fire, one of two burning in Sequoia National Park, was expected to reach the Giant Forest, a grove of 2000 sequoias, on Thursday (local time).

It comes after a wildfire killed thousands of sequoias, some as tall as high-rises and thousands of years old, in the region last year.

The General Sherman Tree is the largest in the world by volume, at 1487 cubic metres, according to the National Park Service. It towers 84 metres and has a circumference of 31 metres at ground level.

Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, which can help them thrive by releasing seeds from their cones and creating clearings that allow young sequoias to grow. But the extraordinary intensity of recent fires – fuelled by climate change – can overwhelm the trees.

That happened last year when the Castle Fire killed what studies estimate were 7500 to 10,600 large sequoias, according to the National Park Service.

A US national interagency fire management team took command of efforts to fight the 30-square-kilometre Paradise Fire and the 8-square-kilometre Colony Fire, which was closest to the grove. The fires forced the evacuation of the park this week.

The wildfires are among the latest in a long summer of blazes that have scorched nearly 9195 square kilometres in California, destroying hundreds of homes.