A growing wildfire that threatens a famed giant sequoia tree grove in California’s Yosemite National Park has forced officials to issue evacuation orders for a nearby community, officials said Friday.
The Washburn Fire began July 7 and doubled in size from Saturday to Sunday, burning near the lower portion of the grove, park officials said earlier. A total of 360 fire personnel are working to contain the fire from the ground and air.
Amid the fire’s expansion, park officials urged people in Yosemite’s Wawona campground and community to evacuate.
Mariposa Grove is home to more than 500 giant sequoia trees, which can grow to over 250 feet tall. And while the grove was founded in 1857, they existed long before that, with some believed to be more than 2,000 years old.
Yosemite is one of the most visited national parks in the US, drawing more than 3.3 million people in 2021. It encompasses nearly 1,200 square miles in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in eastern California.
Meanwhile, California crews are also battling the Electra Fire, which has scorched more than 4,400 acres across Amador and Calaveras counties, also in the Sierra Nevada, according to Cal Fire.
The blaze prompted the state’s first night-water-drop operation via helicopter Wednesday, when about 12,000 gallons of water were dumped on the flames, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Isaac Sanchez told CNN.
“The helicopter was brought in to assist in the cooling and containment of a firing operation which had taken place earlier in the afternoon,” Sanchez said. “While assigned to this operation, the helicopter identified additional areas where the fire had crept over the containment lines and was able to aid in their full extinguishment and containment.”
The western US has been ravaged by wildfires in recent years, exacerbated by drought conditions tied to climate change. In California alone, more than 2.5 million acres were destroyed in nearly 9,000 fires last year, according to Cal Fire.
Last month, officials in Southern California said they were bracing for another challenging summer and fall amid a shortage of firefighting crews and increased workloads.
The threat is not limited to California. Robert Garcia, the US Forest Service’s fire chief for the Angeles National Forest, said the summer months are off to a “concerning start.” Firefighting resources have been mobilizing since March to Arizona and New Mexico, where the Black Fire just became the state’s second-largest blaze in history.
“Southern California typically has a fire season of historically late June and then into the fall,” Garcia told CNN last month. “But we’re seeing activity now year-round.”
CNN’s Stephanie Elam contributed to this report.