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KNP Complex Fire: Flames Threaten Sequoia Groves; General Sherman Tree Wrapped In Fireproof Blanket

SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK (CBS SF/AP) -- The KNP Complex Fire continued to rage within the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks Thursday as federal hotshot firefighting crews battled to save the famed giant Sequoia trees from the advancing flames.

Crews were wrapping the bases of some sequoias with fireproof aluminum blankets, including the General Sherman Tree, which is 275 feet high and 102 feet around at the base, in the hopes of saving them.

"It's a very significant area for many, many people, so a lot of special effort is going into protecting this grove," said Rebecca Paterson, a spokeswoman for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks told the Los Angeles Times.

The two fires making up the KNP Complex have been burning since lightning ignited them on Sept. 9, according to a briefing for fire crews. 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.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks Superintendent Clay Jordan stressed the importance of protecting the massive trees from high-intensity fire.

A national interagency fire management team took command of efforts to fight the 11-square-mile Paradise Fire and the 2.5-square-mile Colony Fire, which was closest to the grove. Operations to burn away vegetation and other fuel that could feed the flames were planned for that area.

To the south, a fire on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Giant Sequoia National Monument grew significantly overnight to more than 6 square miles and crews had no containment of it, a Sequoia National Forest statement said.

The Windy Fire, also started by lightning, has burned into part of the Peyrone Sequoia Grove in the national monument, and other groves were threatened.

"Due to inaccessible terrain, a preliminary assessment of the fire's effects on giant sequoia trees within the grove will be difficult and may take days to complete," the statement said.

The fire led the Tulare County Sheriff's Office to order the community of Johnsondale and Camp Whitsett, a Boy Scouts camp, to evacuate.

The wildfires are among the latest in a long summer of blazes that have scorched nearly 3,550 square miles in California, destroying hundreds of homes.

A 50-year history of using prescribed burns — fires set on purpose to remove other types of trees and vegetation — in the parks' sequoia groves was expected to help the giant trees survive by lessening the impact if flames reach them.

Giant sequoias grow high on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. They 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 fires — fueled by climate change — can overwhelm the trees, a scenario that happened last year when the Castle Fire killed many sequoias in the region.

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