GROVELAND, Calif. — As a wildfire rages along the remote northwest edge of Yosemite National Park, officials cleared brush and set sprinklers to protect two groves of giant sequoias.
The iconic trees can resist fire, but dry conditions and heavy brush are forcing park officials to take extra precautions in the Tuolumne and Merced groves. About three dozen of the giant trees are affected.
“All of the plants and trees in Yosemite are important, but the giant sequoias are incredibly important both for what they are and as symbols of the National Park System,” said spokesman Scott Gediman.
The trees grow naturally only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and are among the largest and oldest living things on earth.
The Tuolumne and Merced groves in are in the north end of the park near Crane Flat. While the Rim Fire is still some distance away, park employees and trail crews are not taking any chances.
“We’re not looking at them as any kind of immediate threat, but we’re taking precautions,” Gediman said.
More than 5,500 homes are threatened and four were destroyed. Voluntary and mandatory evacuations have been ordered.
The fire has been burning for a week. The cause is under investigation.
The fire held steady overnight at nearly 200 square miles along the park’s northern border, but a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says firefighters didn’t get their usual reprieve from cooler early morning temperatures Saturday.
“This morning we are starting to see fire activity pick up earlier than it has the last several days,” said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. “Typically, it doesn’t really heat up until early afternoon. We could continue to see this fire burn very rapidly today.”
The Rim Fire started in a remote canyon of the Stanislaus National Forest a week ago and is just 5 percent contained.