YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Some of the world’s oldest giant sequoia trees are in danger as fire crews work to get Washburn Fire under control.
The fire has burned 2,720 acres and is at 25% containment. The southern entrance to the park is closed, and the park evacuated around 1,600 people from the Wawona community.
The main priority on day 5 was to protect the Wawona community and the giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove.
The crews made progress, but the inferno created its own climate this weekend, putting aircraft crews in danger.
“We gotta use every tool in the toolbox,” said Yosemite Fire Spokesperson Nancy Phillipe.
Phillipe said the battle to protect the 500 trees in the Giant Sequoia Grove is far from over. Crews created fire breaks, cleared debris, and made a sprinkler system around the renowned Grizzly Giant tree. The Grizzly Giant is the 26th largest giant sequoia on earth. The giant weighs over 2 million pounds, which is equivalent to 145 elephants.
“Everyone just has to be on their toes for what could possibly happen,” said Phillpe.
The grove had clearer air and was in much better shape than Friday. Crews spent most of Monday mopping up the area and the focus switched to the Wawona community and the historic Wawona Hotel.
The biggest challenge going forward is the difficult terrain, dry conditions, and the weather.
On Saturday, the inferno burned so hot that it created its own climate. The storm sent debris into the air and almost hit an aircraft with a branch.
“Hey, I just want to let you know a branch went right over the top of us, pretty good size. Probably 50 feet above us, coming down and fell right in between tanker 103 and myself,” said the pilot on the scanner radio.
The pilot almost called the air attack off due to the unpredictable conditions.
“I don’t wanna take a chance of busting a window of an airplane or hurting an aircraft for this,” said the pilot.
Park officials expect the blaze to grow for the next couple of days. The south entrance to the park is closed but the national park is still open. Park officials said if you are visiting the park expect longer wait times and make sure that you have a reservation.
The Red Cross closed its evacuation center but is on standby. There will be a community meeting at 7:00 pm on Monday, July 11 at the Oakhurst Community Center to answer any residents’ concerns.