Firefighters gain upper hand on wildfire burning in Yosemite National Park
The fire is believed to have started on July 7 along a trail in a southern part of the park
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. – Firefighters have gained the upper hand on a wildfire that burned through parts of Yosemite National Park and threatened iconic sequoia trees.
Incident commanders estimate the Washburn Fire has burned more than 4,800 acres and is around 79 percent contained.
The fire is moving eastward, away from the historic Mariposa Grove, an area comprised of more than 500 giant sequoias.
Parks officials say trees named the Grizzly Giant, Bachelor, the Faithful Couple and others survived without significant damage because of fire protection efforts.
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Some of the trees are thought to be more than 3,000 years old and tower more than 200 feet in the sky.
"Fortunately, we had very mild, low to moderate intensity fire behavior at the edge of the Mariposa Grove, and they did really, really well," Athena Demetry, a restoration ecologist at Yosemite National Park, said.
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Due to the decrease in fire activity and clean-up performed along roadways, park rangers announced the reopening of Yosemite’s southern entrance along California Highway 41.
The park says the community of Wawona is also open to residents, property owners and employees.
Fire crews continue containment and mop-up operations, especially on the eastern and northeastern flanks of the fire.
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The wildfire may not have been entirely bad news for the historic ecosystem.
"The Washburn fire, because the fire behavior was low to moderate intensity, it has very beneficial effects for the giant sequoias that were burned along the edge. Those sequoias will release seeds. The rising heat of the fire opens the closed cones of the sequoias. The seeds rained down on a nice, fluffy, ashy flowerbed that they really like. If we have a pretty good precipitation, those will grow into a carpet of giant sequoia seedlings," Demetry stated.
The cause of the wildfire is still under investigation, but officials believe it started along a trail more than two weeks ago.