As fires threaten the Ancient Ones, sequoia lovers wonder what else will no longer endure

In California and beyond, some people are deeply in grief, stunned that flames could again imperil some of Earth's oldest living things.

9/24/2021 5:30:00 PM

The giant sequoias have stood in some cases for millenniums and are one of the largest living things on Earth. Many thought of them as nearly immortal — until very recently.

In California and beyond, some people are deeply in grief, stunned that flames could again imperil some of Earth's oldest living things.

FRESNO — In Oklahoma, Sequoyah Quinton, a storm chaser and member of the Cherokee Nation, went outside, dropped to his knees and prayed for something to stop the destruction of the sequoia trees.In New York, Gabrielle Foreman, a professor, called her mother in Chicago. They spoke of a man being evicted who wailed in grief as he gave up his dog and about a young Black woman shot by police, and then discussed fire threatening the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park.

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Foreman told her mother, “I have to get off the phone. I’m registering this in my body.” Then she prayed: “Send energy to the trees. They’re the witnesses to everything and they literally allow us to breathe.”In San Diego, Katie Ohlin, an early witness to spiraling sequoia mortality, watched this week as people worldwide poured out their alarm and their connection to the trees after seeing photographs of fire workers wrapping the famed Giant Forest, including the largest living tree on Earth, in silver retardant foil.

AdvertisementThe outpouring left Ohlin feeling less alone but saddened for the pain. “I don’t wish this for any of us,” she said.California’s wildfires have claimed lives, homes and cherished summer destinations now scarred by flame or spoiled by smoke. But the giant sequoias, called

the Ancient Onesby Native Americans, have stood in some cases for millenniums and are one of the largest living things on Earth. Until very recently, many thought of them as nearly immortal. Something that would endure.Flames lick at a tree as the Windy fire burns in the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest.

(Noah Berger / Associated Press)The prepped Giant Forest appears spared for now, according to officials.But other nearby groves, with trees thousands of years old,are in danger from the still-burning KNP Complex fire.Because of the close call with the famous trees, more of the public is paying attention to the threat and to the alarm raised three years ago.

In 2018, Ohlin and Linnea Hardlund were partners on a fire ecology crew. Their job was to collect data about a grove that had burned the year before in Black Mountain, which lies partly in the Giant Sequoia National Monument and partly on the Tule River Reservation.

At that point, sequoias were thought to be nearly invincible to fire, with their bark that’s 3 feet thick and broccoli-looking crowns that tower higher than flames. But ecologists feared that nearby forests, sickened by climate change, forest mismanagement and a historic drought, could burn so intensely that some of the monarchs could be killed. Ohlin and Hardlund, young and just starting their careers, were told to expect a few dead ones. There were dozens.

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Advertisement“We just kept saying, ‘Oh my God, what is happening?’” Ohlin said.Each day in the predawn darkness, the two would drive to the burned grove and count.“It was like attending a funeral for these trees every day,” Hardlund said.“Thousand-year-old trees dead on the landscape, resilient for so long and then gone. Nothing prepares you for that.”

AdvertisementKristen Shive, director of science for Save the Redwoods, leads a group around the the base of the 3,000-year-old Stagg Tree in the privately owned Alder Creek Grove, which was spared in the 2020 Castle fire.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)Scientists hoped it was an anomaly. But sequoias, celebrated for using fire as part of their life cycle, kept dying. In 2020, the Castle fire

swept through the Alder Creek Grove,which had many sequoias with trunks larger than 6 feet in diameter. The trees sat on land bought by Save the Redwoods to protect them.Employees wept and held on to one another at the staff meeting where it was first revealed that 10% to 12% of the world’s sequoias were gone.

People remember the first time they saw a giant sequoia.AdvertisementPhotos: Windy fire continues to burn along the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National ForestThe Windy fire has scorched more than 39 square miles and is only 4% contained.For Hardlund, now a fire ecologist with Save the Redwoods, it was as a child on a trip to the Giant Forest. Her dad told her and her two siblings that the trees were going to blow their minds, that they were the oldest, biggest, most resilient things on Earth. They kept pointing at trees asking “Is that one?” He told them they would know it when they saw it.

They knew.Hardlund recalls standing in front of an ancient giant.Advertisement“My 7-year-old brain could not fathom it was real. It was unlike anything I had ever seen,” she recalled.For Foreman, the New York professor, the first time she saw a sequoia was after she got home to Venice Beach after college graduation. Her parents left her the family car for the weekend, never dreaming she and her friends would head to the Giant Forest, a carful of young grads off to see some of the largest living things on Earth.

Dear God. Praying for the Sequoias today. Read more: Los Angeles Times »

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California should have been diverting water used for lawns& golf courses to save these Ancient Ones. What a tragic reality. Until the Elites and their agencies pushing the “climate change agenda”. Los Angeles Times coins the word ‘millenniums’. It’s ‘millennia’, chaps. Nothing should be immortal, you have to clear out the old to make way for the young.

I hope these trees survive. If I ever get to leave Australia I’d love to see these in their full majestic home Trees need protection everywhere, including private land and gardens. I really hope these can be saved, it would be such a sad loss. This is so sad… Maybe just maybe we will think twice about cutting down trees

Fire lol, sequoias don't give a shit about forest fires, in fact they need forest fires in order to clear other trees and allow their cones to open. They have evolved to not give two shits 'I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.' Walt Whitman Very sad.. I hope they survive these fires. But I consider myself lucky to have lived at the same time they lived and to have stood amongst them. 🌲🌲🌲

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Thousands fight wildfires threatening California's sequoiasGrowing armies of firefighters battled wildfires in the heart of California’s sequoia country on Wednesday. A big increase in personnel put more than 1,400 firefighters on the lines of the KNP Complex fire in Sequoia National Park, fire information officer Ana Beatriz Cholo said. The fire remained a threat to the park’s famed Giant Forest.

Wildfires approach more giant sequoias and worsen air quality across central CaliforniaThe KNP Complex and the Windy fire have burned through nearly 60,000 acres combined. Smoke from the fires will affect several counties in California.

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