Raging fire threatens ancient sequoias in California’s Yosemite National Park

At least 70 million Americans are on alert for extreme temperatures as a heat wave continues to affect the country

Oak Fire, California
A fire retardant drop at the Oak Fire near Mariposa, California, on Sunday,DAVID MCNEW (AFP)

High heat over much of the United States continues to keep at least 70 million people on alert for extreme weather, especially in the midwestern and eastern parts of the country. California is being hit hard again, a trend that has accelerated in the last five years. Wildfires continue to break records in their severity and scope, often with tragic consequences to life and property.

Fueled by soaring temperatures and parched vegetation, the Oak Fire that began on July 22 was around 10 miles (16 km) from Yosemite National Park, threatening its famous giant, ancient sequoia trees. Thousands of residents have been evacuated to shelters in California’s biggest blaze of the season. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County, enabling the state to access federal funds and resources to fight the blaze.

A forest is left decimated by the Oak Fire near Mariposa, California, on July 24, 2022.
A forest is left decimated by the Oak Fire near Mariposa, California, on July 24, 2022.DAVID MCNEW (AFP)

Yosemite, which is about an hour’s drive from Mariposa County, is home to some of the tallest (260 feet / 80 meters) and oldest redwoods in the world. These ancient trees were threatened by the Washburn fire in early July, which has been 80% contained. The still-active fire is less than 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the Yosemite fire and has affected about 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares). Yosemite was also threatened by forest fires last year.

More than two decades of drought and rising temperatures have made California more vulnerable than ever to wildfires, with the two most devastating years on record coming in 2020 and 2021. Last year, California suffered its worst fire season ever in terms of total area burned – more than four million acres (1.6 million hectares). The fire destroyed more than 10,000 homes and buildings, and claimed the lives of 33 people.

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