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Firefighters race to save the world’s largest tree as wildfires rage

The General Sherman Tree in California's Sequoia National Park is the world's largest tree by volume.
The General Sherman Tree in California's Sequoia National Park is the world's largest tree by volume. (Image credit: Ron Cobb/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

California firefighters have wrapped the bases of the world's largest trees in fire-resistant aluminum blankets to protect them from a wildfire that is raging nearby, according to recent news reports.

The Paradise and Colony fires, collectively called the KNP Complex Fire, have been burning, uncontained, in California's Sequoia National Park since Sept. 10, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. By Friday (Sept. 17), the fire, which was caused by a lightning storm, had spread across 11,365 acres (4,599 hectares) of the park and had come dangerously close to the"Giant Forest," which is home to many of the planet's most massive trees. 

The Giant Forest contains the world's largest tree by volume, the General Sherman, a 2,200-year-old sequoia that stands 275 feet (83 meters) and is over 36 feet (11 m) in diameter, according to the National Park Service

Related: Land of giants: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are adapted to withstand wildfires and even rely on fire to heat up their cones and release seeds, according to the Los Angeles Times. But climate change and drought are fueling higher-intensity fires that are now too hot even for these fire-adapted giants, as is evidenced by the Castle Fire, which killed thousands of giant sequoias — 10% of these trees — last year.

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On Thursday, firefighters wrapped the bases of the General Sherman and some other giant sequoias in flexible burn wrap made of aluminum, to protect them from falling embers and to reflect heat, according to the LA Times. 

"It's a very significant area for many, many people, so a lot of special effort is going into protecting this grove," Rebecca Paterson, a spokesperson for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, told the LA Times. Along with applying the aluminum wrap, the firefighters are using controlled fires to clear vegetation around the trees so there's less material to kindle.

Firefighters have conducted prescribed burns in the Giant Forest before, which may have protected the forest from the massive Rough Fire in 2015, according to the LA Times.

Read the original LA Times story here.

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.