A wildfire threatening some of the world’s oldest gigantic sequoia trees in California’s Yosemite National Park grew fivefold over the weekend, prompting air quality alarms and obscuring views of the park’s iconic landscape.
The wildfire has charred roughly 1,600 acres (648 hectares) of wood and brush in the park’s southern edge as of Sunday, up from 250 acres on Friday, a day after visitors on the Washburn Trail of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias first reported the fire.
The Mariposa Grove, which contains over 500 mature giant sequoias, was promptly closed by National Park Service workers, and the surrounding village of Wawona, as well as the Wawona Hotel and campsite, were evacuated on Friday.
The evacuations, which occurred at the peak of the summer tourist season, displaced an estimated 1,600 individuals, according to Park Service spokesman Nancy Phillipe. The Park Service has also closed the park’s southern gate, which Phillipe estimates gets roughly 4 million people every year.
The park’s most well-known features, including Yosemite Valley, are still accessible through the park’s western entrance. However, smoke and soot have obscured vistas of monuments including as El Capitan and Half Dome, as well as Bridalveil Fall and the surrounding cliffs.
On Sunday, federal wildfire authorities warned that particulate matter levels in the air had reached dangerous levels over parts of the area.
While fires fueled by exceptionally dry, hot weather that worsened on Sunday have burned mainly unabated, none of Yosemite’s famous sequoias, some of which are over 3,000 years old and have names, have been destroyed, according to Phillipe.
Firefighters were deploying ground-based sprinkler systems to enhance humidity levels around the grove and cutting away vegetation that might contribute to the fuel bed.
“We’re feeling confident of the plan we have in place today,” Phillipe told Reuters over the phone.
The cause of the fire was still being investigated, and no injuries were recorded, according to authorities.
However, the crew of a “air attack plane,” which serves as a control tower in the sky directing planes and helicopters fighting the fire, reported being nearly struck by flying tree debris carried aloft in swirling winds of the fire’s smoke column on Sunday, according to fire command spokesperson Stanley Bercovitz.