Yosemite’s Giant Sequoias Escape Danger From Latest Wildfire
Smoke, road closures impact visitors; reservations are a must
The wildfire that broke out last week in Yosemite National Park’s Mariposa Grove is no longer considered a direct threat to more than 500 centuries-old giant sequoias that make their home there, but it has had an impact on park visitation.
The Washburn fire, first reported on July 7 near the Washburn Trail in Mariposa Grove, has resulted in the closing of the popular grove (encompassing more than 3,200 acres) as well as Wawona Road (Highway 41), from the south entrance into the park to Henness Ridge Road. The rest of the park remains open.
“Impacts caused by the fire are generally limited to decreased visibility due to smoke,” says Lee Beyer, a public information officer with California Interagency Incident Management Team 13, which is leading the firefighting efforts. “Visitors with higher sensitivities to smoke may wish to delay their visit. However, the risk of the fire moving north into the park is very low.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. As of July 12, 22 percent of the blaze had been contained. But parts of the fire can’t be fought head-on because of safety risks for firefighters, according to the National Park Service.
Officials say high afternoon temperatures and low humidity, along with shrubs, ground cover and dead trees that act as fuel, create the “perfect recipe” for active fire behavior.
Mariposa Grove is a much-visited destination within Yosemite: It’s home to more than 500 giant sequoias and is the largest grove of sequoias in the park. Giant sequoias that live within the grove include the Bachelor and Three Graces, the California Tunnel Tree and the famous Grizzly Giant, which is estimated to be 3,000 years old.
Visitors to Yosemite, or those considering just driving through, should know the park now requires entrance reservations through September 30 between the hours of 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. (reservations can be made online).
Due to the closure of Wawona Road at the south entrance, plan to enter the park using El Portal Road (Highway 140), Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120 East) or Tioga Road (Highway 120 West).
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“Visitors will need to be aware of increased traffic through other entry points due to the south entrance being closed by the Washburn fire,” says Beyer.
Visit the park website for the most recent updates. Plan a trip with AARP’s guide to Yosemite.
Susan B. Barnes is a Florida-based freelance journalist with a passion for travel and the environment.