POSTED: 4:47 a.m. HST, Jul 10, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 4:53 a.m. HST, Jul 10, 2013
SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, Calif. » An ancient giant sequoia has been smoldering for more than a year in Sequoia National Park, with the small fire even surviving a full Sierra Nevada winter, National Park Service officials said.
The smoldering sequoia has caused the temporary closure of a small part of the Congress Trail, a popular path dotted with giant trees that winds into the heart of the Giant Forest.
The fire started in June 2012 during a prescribed burn to eliminate brush and make the forest less prone to large wildfires, park officials said. An ember from that burn probably landed on the giant sequoia's crown and started the fire.
A smaller, broken-off dead tree right next to the sequoia is also smoldering, park spokeswoman Linda Mutch said.
A fire has not kept alight through the winter in the park for at least 45 years, Mutch said.
Giant sequoias, the largest living things on Earth, are adapted to fires — in fact, fires are key to sequoias' survival: they help to rid the forest of small trees and clear brush, forming gaps on the forest floor where a giant sequoia's seeds can establish.
Forest managers use prescribed burns to restore a forest's health — but those fires typically fizzle out either because they run out of brush or are extinguished by precipitation.
The sequoia smoldered through the winter, Mutch said, because of dry conditions, including extremely low levels of snow and rain this year.
And while thick bark usually protects sequoias from fire — many of the trees have visible fire scars — an extended fire could eventually cause a tree's death, Mutch said.
Park officials say they don't plan to extinguish the smoldering sequoia, but spot fires from falling embers will be suppressed, they said.