The ‘Titanic’ of California’s groves is among the oldest and biggest

Written by By Nikita Naznin, CNN Staff

Fatal wildfires in California wiped out thousands of giant sequoias — one of the state’s most treasured forests — from one of its largest, private reserves in 2014.

At the time, the El Dorado National Forest on the Oregon border was home to more than 5,000 giant sequoias. And unfortunately, the leaves of many of the trees had already burned.

“That’s pretty serious,” said Kirk Holtby, a toxicologist for the Sierra Club who works in nearby Fresno, California. “They’re an iconic species for California, so it’s really a loss for the state.”

Firefighters are fighting blazes across California. Credit: Raphael Satter/Bloomberg

The Sequoia National Forest is a key part of California’s iconic landscape. “California is one of the world’s greatest forests and the giants that are there really help maintain that,” said Holtby. “If you look at the redwoods there’s giant sequoias as well, right next to each other, and they just pull the roots out of the soil and support the whole forest up and down.”

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Some of the largest sequoias, with a diameter of more than 6 meters, are found in the northern section of the forest, just east of Yosemite National Park. The Central California region is home to most of the sequoias, which include bears, badgers, owls and deer.

About 10% of California’s forests are found in the state’s North Coast, which is where the Lake McClure sequoia, a name synonymous with the region, was discovered in the early 1800s.

By the 1950s, thousands of the trees, which have the highest temperatures and lowest humidity of any tree, had already become brittle. The first massive fire was raging in 1954. By 1970, only between 5% and 10% of the trees were left standing.

The forest in the 1950s. Credit: John Yap

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“We are still seeing the effects of the fires in the forest,” said Rachel Sorrell, an attorney with the California Environmental Law Alliance. “Trees were already probably stressed, and they’re still stressed.”

Recent fires, such as the Camp Fire, in northern California, have prompted new concerns about the amount of wood burned, but most of the trees that were affected were sequoias. About 10% of the forest was covered in dead debris from the 2014 wildfire, but conditions have improved since the area is dryer. The wildfire still caused a severe fire potential.

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