So far, the colossal giant sequoia known as General Sherman has not been damaged by the ongoing wildfires, thanks to the efforts of California firefighters who have wrapped the base of the tree in aluminum blankets. and cleared the vegetation around it.
“It’s just an extra layer of protection for this tree that is so important to all of us,” said Christy Brigham, head of resource management and science for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California.The General Sherman Tree is located in the Giant Forest Redwood Grove of Sequoia National Park, home to some of the tallest trees in the world. The forest is threatened by the fire at the KNP complex, resulting from the merger of two forest fires into one, spread over 9,600 hectares.
The General Sherman is considered the largest tree in the world by volume – according to the United States National Park Service, it measures 1,487 cubic meters – and it measures 31 meters in circumference at its base.
Brigham detailed the efforts to protect the tree for As it happens guest host Carole MacNeil. Here is part of their conversation.
Mrs. Brigham, how far is the fire now from General Sherman?
There was a spot fire … quite close to General Sherman, less than a mile away.
And how is this handled?
There is currently a large fire crew in the Giant Forest watching all the trees, including General Sherman. And they were able very quickly to cut a line around the point fire and put it out.
Forestry workers also wrapped General Sherman in aluminum blankets. How it works?
The purpose of this packaging is a packaging called structural packaging. It is the same material that firefighters use in their emergency shelters. The purpose of this envelope is [to] Keep embers away from old fire scars on the General Sherman, places that could allow fire to enter the trunk.
So what part of the tree is covered?
Up to about 12 to 15 feet. It is taller than it looks in the photo because the tree is so tall.
It is a feeling of eternity to stand next to the tree, you can really feel its age and size and presence.– Christy Brigham, Parc national de Sequoia
If the fire comes, I mean, how does it protect the tree? Tell me a little more about the fire scars.
Giant Sequoias are incredibly well adapted to fire, they actually need fire to breed and clear the forest. They have a bark 12 inches or more thick which protects the tree quite well. But a tree as old as Sherman has survived many previous fires, from 80 to 100. And those fires have burned through the bark in some places. And in those areas, if an ember landed and got in, it could start a fire in the middle of the tree, which can eventually kill a large tree, even in low gravity conditions.
So what we mean is that the fire… in the giant forest is of low gravity, two to three feet in flame length. But we still wanted that extra layer of protection for General Sherman.
You also took another layer of protection, which removes the vegetation that surrounds it.
Yes. And this is done to keep fire away from the trunk and also to prevent heat pulses to the roots of the tree which can injure the tree.
How old is General Sherman?
We do not know. Estimates are between 2,100 and 2,700 years old.
How does it feel to look at General Sherman, to look at that tree?
It is an incredibly special experience. Whenever I go up there, which I do on a regular basis, I always chat with visitors about what it feels like to look into the branches of this tree and see its magnificent size. It is a feeling of eternity to stand next to the tree, you can really feel its age and size and presence.
A feeling of eternity?
Yeah, I mean, how many times do you stand next to something that’s been alive since the Roman Empire? It really takes your mind into deep time.
Have you ever lost a sequoia on fire?
We have. We lost in the castle fire last year, all the managers of Sequoia… together, we lost between 7,500 and 10,600 redwoods. And we know we’ve lost several hundred in the park.
How is it ?
It is devastating. Many of us cried when we saw the impacts and stand in groves that had devastating fire behavior… Personally, I feel like I missed the trees. They’ve survived so many previous fires, and climate change and fire suppression has really pushed them over the edge. And to see fires able to take these trees and kill them after they’ve survived so much is just heartbreaking.
And yet here we are again, on the brink of the abyss.
Oh, I know. It’s terribly frustrating and it’s so painful that we couldn’t have done more, although I will say that the giant forest is very well protected and all of the prescribed burns that we have done there… everything indicates that the behavior of the fire in this forest is very soft and these trees are doing well.
Other groves that we have not been able to treat by thinning or fire, we are concerned and we can see negative effects, fires and dead redwoods in these groves.
What about the Three Rivers community in general? What is going on there?
The community is doing very well. It’s a fantastic city that really brings people together. People are setting up a firefighters barbecue and putting down signs and gifts and really appreciating all the efforts of the large number of fire crews and engines that are in town right now.
Protecting the community is the number one priority in this fire. And the community really appreciates that. Part of town is under compulsory evacuation and being evacuated and the rest of us are on warning and our things are packed and ready to go.
Would it be difficult for you to leave, given your attachment to the redwoods?
Yes it would be.
Written by Andréa Bellemare. Interview with Christy Brigham directed by Niza Lyapa Nondo. This Q&A has been edited and condensed.