(CNN) — A wildfire in California’s Yosemite National Park still threatens the famed Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, but so far none of the trees have suffered significant damage, said public information officer Robbie Johnson on the fire, to CNN on Sunday afternoon.

The 1,591-acre Washburn Fire “has entered the Grove, but the good news is that due to prescribed burns and clearing of material on the ground, it’s clear in the Mariposa Grove,” Johnson said.

Johnson said fire crews removed logs, dead trees, branches and underbrush near the famous trees.

“And then the firefighters did a prescribed burn to clean that up, so what we have is like a ‘donut hole’ and it’s safe around it,” she said. “In fact, one conservationist said he was happy with how the redwoods are being protected.”

Mariposa Grove is home to over 500 giant sequoias, which can reach over 250 feet. The grove was founded in 1857, but the trees existed long before that, with some being over 2,000 years old.

The Washburn fire started on July 7

Earlier Sunday, Scott Gediman, the park’s chief spokesman, told CNN the flames were “very close, they’re right around (the grove).”

He also said the fire was about a mile or two from the oldest hotel in the park, the Wawona Hotel, which was established in 1856, according to his website. Park officials have urged residents of the campground and the Wawona community to evacuate.
The Washburn Fire began on July 7 and doubled from Saturday to Sunday, burning near the lower part of the grove, park officials said earlier. A total of 360 firefighters are working to contain the fire from the ground and the air.

The Washburn Fire is burning in Yosemite National Park on Saturday.

Alex Freidin

Crews are also working to protect communities about five miles north of the blaze as scouting continues, Gediman said.

“Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, but it’s these high-intensity fires that cause the damage that happened, for example, in the Creek Fire and the TCF complex last year in Sequoia National Park.” , said Gediman.

Gediman said it was “steep, heavily forested terrain” and they were relying on air and ground support to protect the park. “Air support is certainly useful, but we have a lot of teams and firefighters on the ground who will put out the fire. So it is really a ground and air attack, coordinated, which will lead us to the suppression that we’re aiming as soon as we can.”

Fire crews made it to the heels of the blaze, at its origin point near the Mariposa Grove area, Matt Ahearn, operations section chief for California’s Interagency Incident Management Team 13, said said earlier on Sunday.

“At the upper end of Mariposa Grove, the fire has receded a bit into the grove,” Ahearn said. “We’ve got teams on those edges, they’ve been working the handline from the bottom, the direct handline all the way around and around. … Now we need to reinforce with pipe poses.”

Officials hope the scars from previous fires will help contain the Washburn blaze.

Officials hope the scars from previous fires will help contain the Washburn blaze.

Alex Freidin

Ahearn said elite teams were en route to the area and the area of ​​the fire is expected to be updated later on Sunday after aerial intelligence ends.

In a statement posted on InciWeb – a fire response coordination site – officials said the fire was burning in difficult terrain “with heavy fuels continuing in and around the fire”.

“Significant tree mortality from 2013 to 2015 left significant dead combustibles standing and dead. This also presents significant safety risks to firefighters,” the statement said.

Sprinkler system installed to protect a famous redwood tree

The weather is expected to warm up during the week. However, fire scars from past fires about 1 to 3 miles from the Washburn Fire perimeter will help slow it down, officials said.

Firefighters installed a sprinkler system around the Grizzly Giant, a famous redwood tree in Mariposa Grove, to protect it from the flames, and park officials said the grove will remain closed until further notice.

Yosemite is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, attracting more than 3.3 million people in 2021. It encompasses nearly 1,200 square miles in the Sierra Nevada Range in eastern La California.

Electra fire burns too

Meanwhile, California crews are also battling the Electra Fire, which has burned more than 4,400 acres in Amador and Calaveras counties, also in the Sierra Nevada, according to Cal Fire.

The blaze sparked the state’s first nighttime water-dropping operation by helicopter on Wednesday, when an estimated 12,000 gallons of water was dumped on the flames, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Isaac Sanchez told CNN .

“The helicopter was brought in to help with cooling and containment from a shooting operation that had taken place earlier in the afternoon,” Sanchez said. “While assigned to this operation, the helicopter identified additional areas where the fire had crept above the containment lines and was able to assist in their complete extinguishment and containment.”

The western United States has been ravaged by wildfires in recent years, exacerbated by drought conditions linked to climate change. In California alone, more than 2.5 million acres were destroyed in nearly 9,000 fires last year, according to Cal Fire.
Last month, officials in Southern California said they were bracing for another tough summer and fall amid a shortage of fire crews and an increased workload.

The threat is not limited to California. Robert Garcia, U.S. Forest Service fire chief for the Angeles National Forest, said the summer months are off to a “worrying start.” Firefighting resources have been mobilizing since March in Arizona and New Mexico, where the Black Fire just became the second-largest blaze in state history.

“Southern California typically has a fire season historically in late June and then in the fall,” Garcia told CNN last month. “But we are seeing activity now year-round.”

CNN’s Stephanie Elam, Melissa Alonso, Eric Levenson and Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.

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