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California’s Sierra Nevada mountains are the only place where giant sequoias grow in nature.* These massive trees can live for many centuries, but thousands are falling victim to increasingly extreme wildfires.

“We have generated a situation that creates fire that they cannot tolerate, through fire suppression and climate change,” says Christy Brigham of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

She says in 2020, a wildfire killed more than 10% of large sequoias.

That event prompted the National Park Service and other land management agencies to form a coalition to protect the most at-risk sequoias – for example, by reducing debris and brush that could fuel fires.

But this fall, high-severity fire tore through some sequoia groves again. Firefighters protected a few trees by wrapping them with flame-retardant foil. But Brigham says there were still heartbreaking losses.

“If we can learn from this and continue to make progress in landscape-scale forest resilience, and addressing climate change through more prescribed fire, through fuel reduction, and through all the things we can each do to address climate change, then the losses won’t be in vain,” Brigham says.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media

*Editor’s note: This sentence was updated Dec. 3, 2021 because giant sequoias are found in nature in the Sierra Nevada mountains but are planted elsewhere as ornamental trees.