Updated: November 19, 2021
Thousands of giant sequoias perished in the 2021 Windy and KNP Complex fires. Combined with the Castle Fire last year, the immensity of this loss is impossible to fathom. The sequoias are harbingers of our planet’s destruction. It’s just too hot and too dry.
The National Park Service (NPS) has announced that approximately 3,000 large (4+ feet diameter) giant sequoias perished in the KNP Complex and Windy fires combined. The agency’s report shows that the most severely burned NPS groves were Redwood Mountain Grove, Suwanee Grove, and New Oriole Grove.
Redwood Mountain had by far the largest amount of acreage impacted. Several hundred acres burned severely and nearly the same amount burned with moderate severity. The hardest hit grove by percentage impacted was Suwanee, with most of the grove having burned intensely. New Oriole lost around a third of its sequoias. Atwell also had a lot of acreage impacted that includes areas of intense burn. Though the report includes an estimate of the number of sequoias killed by the Windy Fire on USFS lands (and a fire severity map), it does not include severity percentages. Click here to see the full report. Click here to see a brief summary.
The Forest Service released the following Windy Fire burn severity chart based on satellite imagery. If this information is accurate and 25% of sequoia grove area burned severely, we are looking at a mirroring of last year’s Castle Fire (which severely burned 29% of sequoia grove area). Sequoia death in severely burned areas will be nearly 100%. Sequoia loss in moderately burned areas will be around 34% (using data from the NPS Castle Fire study).
Below is the Windy Fire severity map included in the NPS study. It indicates severe burns in most groves impacted. Starvation Creek fared the worst, being nearly wiped out (the Forest Service announced that all but 4 sequoias perished). From the above chart and the map below, it appears that Deer Creek Grove lost most of its sequoias; Packsaddle likely lost a third; Long Meadow lost more than a third; and Redhill lost more than a third. Peyrone and South Peyrone also suffered significant losses. The estimates will be updated as new information comes in. It’s still early in the process.
Groves impacted by the Windy and KNP Complex fires, in alphabetical order:
Atwell-East Fork Grove
The KNP Fire burned the western portion of the Atwell section, from the Redwood Creek area toward the Arm Tree area, and then toward the center of the grove. According to the NPS report, most of the burn was limited to a surface burn, but there are also areas that burned intensely, including areas of severe burn. The report states that: “Where Atwell burned severely, the forest was mostly second growth” (due to pre-park logging).
Black Mountain Grove
The Windy Fire only clipped the eastern edge of Black Mountain and was limited to a surface burn.
Castle Creek Grove
According to the NPS report, the KNP Fire burned most of Castle Creek, but was not severe. I would expect to see some losses in the mixed severity areas.
The Forest Service announced that the Windy Fire only lightly burned Cunningham.
Deer Creek Grove
Read an actual firsthand account of the sequoia losses in Deer Creek here.
The KNP Fire was fought along the highway that cuts through the Giant Forest. The named sequoias were protected. The famous General Sherman tree was not impacted. The fire was not permitted to rage through the grove as it was in others. There are no losses reported in Giant Forest so far. It is interesting to note the necessity of such an enormous amount of effort to fight the fire from torching the Giant Forest, despite this area being so heavily prescribed burned.
Long Meadow Grove
Read an actual firsthand account of the sequoia losses in Long Meadow here.
According to the NPS report, Lost Grove only experienced low intensity fire during the KNP Fire.
The NPS stated early on that efforts prevented the KNP Fire from burning the upper portion of Muir, the area near the trail. According to the NPS report, the rest of the grove experienced mostly low impact fire with areas of intense burn in lower sections. There may be losses in these areas far from the trail.
New Oriole Grove
According to the NPS report, nearly a quarter of New Oriole Grove burned severely in the KNP Fire and another quarter burned with moderate severity. We can expect to see major loss in this small grove.
North Cold Spring Grove
There is no info about how North Cold Spring fared in the Windy Fire since it’s located on the Tule River Indian Reservation.
According to the NPS report, Oriole Grove experienced mostly a low intensity burn in the KNP Complex Fire.
Read an actual firsthand account of the sequoia losses in Packsaddle here.
Parker Peak Grove
There is no info about how Parker Peak fared in the Windy Fire since it’s located on the Tule River Indian Reservation.
The Windy Fire started on the Tule River Indian Reservation west of Peyrone Grove. It was small and slow moving when it started. It gradually creeped east toward Peyrone, but then tore off to the south and east. The Forest Service announced that most of Peyrone did not burn severely.
Pine Ridge Grove
According to the NPS report, Pine Ridge experienced low impact burn during the KNP Complex Fire. I know this area to be thick with debris and brambles as well as adjacent to a drier landscape. With so much fuel, it’s interesting that this grove did not burn intensely.
Red Hill Grove
The Forest Service chart shows that about a third of Red Hill Grove burned severely in the Windy Fire, and another third burned with moderate severity. We can expect to see major losses in Red Hill.
Redwood Mountain Grove
According to the NPS report, a large swath of acreage in Redwood Mountain Grove burned severely in the KNP Complex Fire. An enormous pyrocumulus cloud formed over the grove when the fire swept through. More information about Redwood Mountain can be found in the NPS report, including photos. Numerous sequoias perished in this grove.
According to the NPS report, Skagway Grove experienced mostly low intensity burn in the KNP Fire. The grove burned in its entirety.
South Peyrone Grove
The Forest Service chart shows that 21% of South Peyrone burned severely and 54% burned with moderate severity in the Windy Fire. We can expect to see many losses. The fire burned down the Mule Peak lookout tower located above the grove. Crews had wrapped the tower, but it burned down anyway (really wish they wrapped my house rather than old buildings like this).
Starvation Creek Grove
Read an actual firsthand account of the sequoia losses in Starvation Creek here.
According to the NPS report, nearly all of Suwanee Grove burned intensely (moderate to severe) in the KNP Complex Fire. Suwanee fared the worst out of all the NPS groves by percentage of the grove consumed and likely killed. The report states that: “Reconnaissance via helicopter over Suwanee indicated that many of the areas classified as moderate severity were under-predicted in the severity map, potentially resulting in more mortality than estimated.”
About the Author:
Sue Cag is a musician, artist, writer, photographer, and conservationist.
All photos and video by Sue Cag. All Rights Reserved. Photos and video may not be used without permission.
Featured Image: The view ...
I walked the entire Freem...
I went back down Fox Farm...
My home burned down on Se...
There's nothing in the wo...
I have visited Sequoia Na...