San Francisco Chronicle

Sequoia spared: Hand crews protect world’s largest tree from direct fire damage in Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest.

- By Sarah Ravani, Michael Cabanatuan and Danielle Echeverria Chronicle staff writer J.K. Dineen contribute­d to this story.

The world’s largest tree, the General Sherman in Sequoia National Park, was spared direct fire damage as the KNP Complex blaze swept into the park’s beloved Giant Forest over the weekend, while flames from the Windy Fire burned into other sequoia groves on Sierra Nevada slopes to the south and threatened Tulare County homes, officials said Sunday.

Hand crews worked to clear the area around the General Sherman and set controlled fires to remove ground fuel and expand the protection area around the grove, Jack Owen, spokespers­on for the KNP Complex Fire Informatio­n Office, said Sunday evening.

“There are no trees that have been burned yet, as far as in the grove or in the Giant Forest,” Owen said. Fire crews “are pouring everything they can into it as long as it’s safe. We are just plugging along. That area is looking good.”

Crews aimed around-the-clock sprinklers at the General Sherman and park buildings in the area to minimize the fire risk, he added.

When the flames swept into some parts of the famous grove, careful preparatio­n — including wrapping the General Sherman and several other giants in aluminum insulated protective blankets — and decades of prescribed burns slowed the fire and prevented significan­t damage, said Rebecca Paterson, a fire spokespers­on.

The fire also burned through other sequoia groves in remote areas that firefighte­rs cannot safely access, so the extent of damage was not yet known, Paterson said.

Further south on the Sierra slopes, the Windy Fire also threatened giant sequoia groves, and 1,750 homes, along with 175 commercial and mixeduse buildings, and 350 “minor structures” like barns and garages, officials said.

The Windy Fire was burning on the Tule River Indian Reservatio­n and in Giant Sequoia National Monument in Sequoia National Forest. As of Sunday, the blaze had spread over 23,801 acres and was 4% contained.

It burned through the Peyrone and Red Hill groves, and a portion of the Long Meadow Grove along the Trail of 100 Giants, considered a premier grove of giant sequoias, some dating 1,500 years, the U.S. Forest Service said. Amanda Muncie, spokespers­on on the Windy Fire, said it had entered 50% of the trail. An Associated Press photograph­er captured flames burning up a tree trunk and the forest floor below ablaze.

Muncie said firefighte­rs worked to protect homes and to strengthen dozer lines around the fire. Evacuation orders were in place for parts of Tulare County, starting Saturday. About 550 households had been evacuated, officials said Sunday. Firefighte­rs expected calmer overnight winds to help combat the blaze before drier, hotter weather returns Monday.

In Sequoia National Park, gusty winds that prompted a red flag warning had not materializ­ed by Sunday afternoon, Owen said. Still, hand crews worked throughout the forest to prepare for the worst. As of Sunday, the KNP Complex had burned 21,777 acres and remained uncontaine­d.

Reaching the famous Giant Forest on Friday, it had burned only in a small area, said Katy Hooper, National Park Service fire informatio­n officer.

It reached a cluster of titanic trees, known as the Four Guardsmen, but did not damage them, officials said Sunday. Firefighte­rs had successful­ly burned out ground fuel and wrapped the base of the sequoias with the aluminum insulated blankets — successful­ly protecting them.

Fire officials had expressed confidence that the Giant Forest overall, spanning 3 square miles and containing about 2,000 sequoias, was protected against the flames. The forest floor was cleared of most debris, while decades of prescribed burns reduced potential fuel in the area.

With fire movement north toward Lodgepole, a part of the park with a visitor center, stores and restaurant­s, a campground and employee housing, Owen said Lodgepole remained in “pretty good shape.” Hand crews worked in the area to strengthen dozer lines to prevent the fire from coming into the area.

In northeaste­rn California, the five-county Dixie Fire remained at 963,301 acres and 88% contained. The Caldor Fire near Lake Tahoe was 218,876 acres and 71% contained. The U.S. Forest Service announced Sunday that Highway 50 would reopen between Kyburz and Meyers at 8 a.m. Monday, just to allow residents of the area and property owners to examine damage before the highway opens to the public. Evacuation orders still prevent them from returning to live there.

Danielle Echeverria, Michael Cabanatuan and Sarah Ravani are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: danielle.echeverria@sfchronicl­, mcabanatua­n@ sfchronicl­, sravani@sfchronicl­ Twitter: @DanielleEc­hev, @ctuan, @SarRavani

 ?? Noah Berger / Associated Press ?? Flames climb a sequoia as the Windy Fire hits the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest.
Noah Berger / Associated Press Flames climb a sequoia as the Windy Fire hits the Trail of 100 Giants grove in Sequoia National Forest.

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