Space & Innovation

Calif. Firefighters Battle to Save World's Largest Trees

Some of the world's largest and most iconic trees are in the path of major wildfires.

Several record-breaking and historic trees are in the path of one of three massive wildfires that are ravaging central and northern California.

The trees in harm's way include "General Grant," a giant sequoia that, at over 260 feet tall, is one of the top three largest trees in the world; and Boole Tree, which is the world's sixth largest giant sequoia.

Western Wildfires: Photos

The Rough Fire surrounding the trees has burned 135,000 acres and remains less than 50 percent contained.

A webcam captured the Rough Fire burning toward the Sierras:

So far, the legendary trees have been spared, thanks to firefighters who have been battling the blaze 24/7.

"It's getting better, firefighter Luis Magana told The Sacramento Bee. He added that on Friday, "it was raining down ash," but that has turned into more of a light ash drizzle now.

Underbrush was cleared in a grove near the trees, and prescribed burns have kept the fire from overrunning the break around General Grant Grove, a section of the greater Kings Canyon National Park where the historic trees are.

The General Grant Tree is over 3000 years old, and is known as the national Christmas Tree of the U.S. The region is also home to the fabled Chicago Stump, which is what's left of the 95-foot-wide General Noble Tree that was cut down in 1892 to create an exhibit for the following year. It was one of the largest trees to have ever been cut down.

Photos: Wildfires Devastate Wine Country in California

Paul Garnier, a spokesman for the Rough Fire's incident management team, told the Los Angeles Times that a bark and beetle infestation previously killed multiple pine trees in the area, adding fuel to the already drought-ravaged landscape.

Garnier said that crews hand-cut lines around the historic trees - even the Chicago Stump - and ran designated hose lines to them. The trees, surrounded by flames, were then blanketed with an aboveground sprinkler system.

Wildfires are a part of a healthy ecosystem, he said, and can help some trees germinate.

"It really is more that man has come into this wild space so we have to be involved and make sure people and property are protected," he added.

Video: Should We Control Wildfires?

Two other fires, the Valley Fire and Butte Fire, are of particular threat to homeowners in Lake County, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, and in "California's Gold Country" southeast of Sacramento.

According to the Weather Channel, the Valley Fire killed one person over the weekend, and destroyed hundreds of structures. The Butte Fire is threatening around 6400 structures, and has already burned 65,000 acres.

California is in its fourth year of record-breaking drought, but a developing El Nino is increasing the likelihood of a wet California winter. Rain might come to the state this Wednesday, with firefighters, homeowners and officials all hoping for some help from nature in ending the blazes.

General Grant Tree, the world’s second largest tree.

June 27, 2012 --

A wildfire in Colorado Springs has forced the evacuation of 32,000 people from their homes. The cause of the Waldo Canyon Fire, which broke out on Saturday June 23 is still under investigation. As of today the fire has doubled in size to 15,517 acres as 764 personnel fight the flames under rapidly spreading, extreme fire conditions. Shifting winds of 65 mph on Tuesday hampered firefighting efforts and full containment is not expected until July 16. Across the country, 657,614 acres are currently burning under the graze of 37 active large fires, including those set intentionally by forest services to manage undergrowth. So far this year, more than 1.5 million acres have been scorched by the more than 26,000 fires nation-wide. But to put that number in perspective, last year at this time more than 35,000 fires had burned more than 4.6 million across the country, according to the National Fire Information Center. Fire conditions are expected to continue into the summer this season and homeowners in fire-prone areas should have emergency evacuation plans in place. Yesterday, 11 new large fires were reported and several communities in Utah and Montana also had to evacuate. The states currently reporting large fires are: Alaska (3), Alabama (2), Arkansas (1), Arizona (1), California (1), Colorado (7), Montana (7), Nevada (2), New Mexico (3), North Carolina (1), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (1), Utah (3), and Wyoming (4).

An air tanker on June 16 makes a drop on a 500-plus acre brush fire in Los Padres National Forest, Calif. On June 7, the U.S. Forest Service added four more planes to its firefighting fleet bringing the total number up to 13. Earlier in June, one P-2V crashed while firefighting over mountainous Utah-Nevada border, while another made an emergency landing with one landing gear still retracted. You can watch the video of the amazing job the pilots did during the emergency landing here:

DNews Nugget: More Air Tankers to Fight Fires

Angeles National Forest firefighters make their way into the 500-plus acre brush fire in Los Padres National Forest, Calif., on June 16.

ANALYSIS: How to Fight a Wildfire

A forest trees explodes into a huge fireball brush fire in Los Padres National Forest, Calif.

The High Park Fire, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Fort Collins, Colorado, was discovered just before 6:00 a.m. on June 9, 2012. Started by a lightning strike, the fire quickly grew, fueled by high winds and dry vegetation.

A Sikorsky S-64 Aircrane firefighting helicopter drops water on a hotspot burning close to homes near Horsetooth Reservoir on June 11, 2012, near Laporte, Colo. The High Park Fire in Larimer County continues to burn, having scorched 87,284 acres. Containment as of June 27, was at 65 percent with expectations for reaching full containment by July 30.

NEWS: Firefighters Start to Contain Colorado Inferno

Nearly half of the U.S. Forest Services' airborne fire suppression fleet are fighting flames now burning in Colorado. “Current conditions are comparable to 2002 fire season, which was the worst in Colorado history. Fires haven’t burned as many acres at this point, but the drought conditions and fuel conditions are right up there with the 2002 season, if not worse,” reported Tim Mathewson, a fire meteorologist with the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

ANALYSIS: Worst 21st-Century Fires: Models Say Expect More

New Mexico has seen the largest wildfire in state history this season with the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in Gila National Forest burning 297,845 acres since May 16, 2012 after a lightning strike ignited the flames. As of June 27, the fire was 87 percent contained, with only 10 personnel continuing to work the containment lines and put the fire to bed.

PHOTOS: After the Dust Settles