Deep within California’s Sequoia National Park, one of the state’s iconic redwood trees is still smoldering from last year’s devastating wildfires, according to the National Park Service.
The burning giant sequoia was found by scientists and fire crews with the National Park Service, who were conducting surveys in the area to assess damage from the 2020 Castle Fire, which broke out in August and scorched more than 150,000 acres of land.
The smoldering sequoia does not currently pose a threat to life or property, but it does demonstrate “how dry the park is,” said Leif Mathiesen, assistant fire management officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
“With the low amount of snowfall and rain this year, there may be additional discoveries as spring transitions into summer,” Mathiesen said in a statement.
Much of California is in the grips of a worsening drought. Huge swaths of the state, including the areas in and around Sequoia National Park, are under “extreme drought” conditions, indicating that water reservoirs are “extremely low,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The dry conditions have states in the western U.S. bracing for what experts say could be another active wildfire season. Last year’s record-setting wildfires engulfed millions of acres across Washington state, Oregon, California and Colorado. In California alone, nearly 10,000 separate fires in 2020 scorched 4.2 million acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
Scientists have predicted that devastating wildfires will become more frequent and intense in a warming world, particularly as drought conditions persist and create the ingredients necessary to turn forests into tinderboxes.
The 2020 Castle Fire was thought to have been caused by a lightning strike. The fire spread to at least 10 sequoia groves in the region, but it’s not known how many trees — including some that were hundreds of years old — were destroyed.
But sequoias are a fire-adapted species, and low-intensity blazes can actually help these forests thrive by breaking open cones from giant sequoias that release their seeds. In recent years, however, drought conditions combined with high-intensity fires have threatened these groves, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The still-smoking tree in Sequoia National Park is located in the Board Camp Grove, which the National Park Service said is away from any trails. Agency officials added, however, that the smoldering sequoia “may be still visible from the Ladybug Trail which leaves east bound from the South Fork Campground at the southern end of Sequoia National Park.”