California wildfire threatens ancient trees

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A wildfire raging in central California surged Friday toward a grove of ancient giant sequoia trees, the US National Parks Service said.

The so-called Rough fire has burned more than 47,600 hectares in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks since it was ignited by a lightning strike on July 31.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of Grant Grove, home to giant sequoia trees estimated to be between 1,800 and 2,700 years old – some of the oldest and largest trees in the world.

The largest of them, known as General Grant, was 83.8 metres tall in 2012 – as high as a 26-storey building, according to the National Park Service.

The stump of the famed General Noble tree exhibited at the 1897 Chicago World’s Fair would soon be engulfed by flames, fire agency spokesman Jim Schwarber told the Los Angeles Times.

Giant sequoias are some of the world’s oldest individual trees, growing only on the western slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

Many giant sequoias in Grant Grove bear scars of past blazes, Schwarber said. Four years of drought have left them especially vulnerable to fire.

The Rough fire is currently the largest active blaze in California and is still only 29-per-cent contained.

A prolonged drought combined with a hot, dry summer have exacerbated the western US’s seasonal wildfires. More than 35,090 square kilometres – an area the size of Taiwan or nearly the size of Switzerland – have burned in 2015.

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