California Tree Is Nonetheless Smoldering After Final Summer season’s Wildfires

Scientists and firefighters in California recently discovered a giant sequoia tree that is still smoldering and smoking almost a year after the area was destroyed by massive forest fires.

The 2020 Castle Fire, which broke out last August and scorched more than 150,000 acres, including at least 10 sequoia groves in the area. Nobody knows how many of these ancient giants were destroyed by the fire, but one thing is certain, at least one of them is still smoldering and smoking almost a year later. National Park Service staff made the shocking discovery earlier this month while conducting surveys in the area to assess the damage caused by last year’s devastating fire. One of them noticed clouds of smoke in the distance and followed them with a long camera lens to a single sequoia tree.

Photo: Tony Caprio / National Park Service

The tree, which had existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years, was charred but still standing, and what was left of last year’s wildfire was still smoldering in it. Scientists believe the massive trunk actually protected the fire from rain and snowfall during the winter. Like a wood stove, the inside of a tree can provide oxygen-rich protection for a fire to survive.

“The fact that the areas are still smoldering and smoking after the fire in the castle in 2020 shows how dry the park is,” said Leif Mathiesen, the deputy fire protection officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon. “With so little snow and rain this year, there may be additional discoveries as spring turns into summer.”

Photo: Tony Caprio / National Park Service

Interestingly, sequoias actually rely on fire to spread their seeds and grow new seedlings. Scientists discovered that it wasn’t until the flames reached the branches of the trees that their cones, protected by a sticky resin shell, melted and opened, causing hundreds of small seeds to fall to the ground. Since then, controlled, low-intensity fires have been allowed to burn in sequoia groves in California.

While it’s not uncommon for trees to smolder months after a wildfire, the fact that this particular sequoia has been burning slowly for almost a year is cause for concern. It shows how dry the area is, and if the drought worsens, it is very likely that another wildfire caused by lightning could wreak havoc on the area again.