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Yosemite's seqoias are being threatened by a wildfire

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hundreds of ancient trees are under threat because of a wildfire in California's Yosemite National Park. It's called the Washburn Fire, and it has burned nearly 3,000 acres already. Crews are working to try to keep the flames from destroying that group of giant sequoias. Mike Hagerty from CapRadio in Sacramento has the story.

MIKE HAGERTY, BYLINE: Of the millions of trees in Yosemite, the Mariposa Grove is special - about 500 giant sequoias, some as tall as 200 feet and nearly 3,000 years old. They've been protected by law since 1864, but protecting them against wildfires like the Washburn Fire has become a recurring battle in recent years.

Marc Peebles with the U.S. Forest Service says extra measures are in place now.

MARC PEEBLES: Some of the trees have been wrapped with fire-protective wrap, and some sprinkler systems have been put in the Mariposa Grove in order to help protect the grove.

HAGERTY: That's in addition to the more than 550 people with hoses and other equipment, a number that's growing by the day. Also growing in these blazes is the phenomenon of fire-generated winds - updrafts that can take flaming debris and send it shooting into the sky. On Saturday, a large tree branch rocketing upward narrowly missed two firefighting airplanes working the Washburn Fire.

Craig Clements is a professor of meteorology and climate science director of the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center at San Jose State University.

CRAIG CLEMENTS: These are strong winds that go vertically from the fire, as strong as a hundred and twenty miles per hour. Those are the type of winds that we can see, which can clearly loft branches and parts of trees and such.

HAGERTY: Extreme fire weather has become more common with climate change. While there's optimism that the tide may be about to turn, the sheer amount of fuel and the rugged terrain make the Washburn Fire a real challenge.

For NPR News, I'm Mike Hagerty in Sacramento. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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