PORTERVILLE (CBS SF) -- The lightning-caused Windy Fire burned into 11 giant sequoia groves, claiming hundreds of towering trees, before firefighters were finally able to get a handle on the raging wildfire, U.S. Forestry officials announced Tuesday.
Progress of the fire has long been stopped, but it still remains only 92% contained. The burn zone left in its wake stretches for 97,528 acres through the heart of California's sequoia county.
Forestry officials said five of the 11 groves were entirely within Sequoia National Forest, two in the Tule River Indian Reservation and four are shared across agency boundaries.
While the Forest Service is still working to determine the impacts of the fire in the groves, the initial surveys have given an indication of the extent of the loss.
"Initial assessments, based on observations by resource advisors and burn severity maps, indicate the fire killed hundreds of giant sequoias," officials said in news release. "Many more were heavily torched and may or may not survive."
A special task force of firefighters and resource specialists deployed during the fire were able to save countless others.
In some groves, officials said, they were able to construct firelines surrounding the grove or individual groups of trees, set up sprinkler systems and removed fuels in advance of the flames.
"During initial observations, it was apparent that giant sequoia trees treated before the Windy Fire swept through the groves were more likely to survive," officials said. "Those with duff and woody debris scraped away from their trunks, especially near burn marks, were less susceptible in most cases."
In the Starvation Complex, four out of six giant sequoia trees, treated before the fire reached them, survived. An estimated 116 trees not accessible before the fire were killed.
Similar conditions were found in the Long Meadow Grove, where more than a decade of fuel reduction efforts helped save the giant sequoia trees along the Trail of 100 Giants.
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