Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

Sapling sequoias from the 1988 Congress Prescribed Fire with the House Group in the background.

Walking Through Giant Forest with an Eye
for the Next Generation

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California
National Fire Plan, Rehabilitation*

It is impossible to walk through the Giant Forest without being awestruck by the beauty of the great giants: General Sherman, McKinley, the Parker Group, and the many others people have come to know and love. A joy and a peace can be found while wandering through the sequoias that is unlike anything else.

Yet another wonder can be seen throughout the parks' sequoia groves. Whether walking through the East Fork Grove, Redwood Canyon Grove, or in a variety of locations in Giant Forest, with a trained and observant eye, you can spot crops and thickets of sequoia saplings and adolescents.

Young sequoias are distinctive in their bright green and scaly needles. They often grow in dense clusters near streams, wet meadows and sunny gaps in the forest canopy; testament that this is a thirsty and sun-loving species.

These saplings just west of Crescent Meadow are the result of prescribed fires in 1984 and 1996. Photos by Deb Schweizer, NPS.

These young trees are all the products of prescribed fire (Rx) projects completed over the recent years: Tar Gap Rx (2002), Hart Meadow Rx (1981) Giant Forest Rx (1996), Quarry Rx (2005), Congress Rx (1988), Bearhill Rx (2001), and others.

Giant sequoias are fire adapted and thrive in naturally cycling fire. Fire opens the cones, and releases the tiny seeds to the nutrient rich ash and mineral soil below-ideal conditions for this tree's germination. Fire thins competing vegetation and trees, and opens the canopy.

The odds are long that a sequoia seed will germinate and grow to maturity. Extensive seed scatter was observed after the Crescent Meadow Prescribed Fire in 2009, yet many of these seeds will not even take root. A very small percentage does, however. Those that do still have a lot with which to contend. Droughts, overgrowth of the forest (and the resulting competition for water and nutrients), floods, and fire all take a toll on these trees as they grow. Of the dense clusters of saplings that can be seen ten years after a fire, very few of the trees will actually last into the coming years. They cannot all survive if one is to survive.

The natural processes in the Sierra Nevada wean out the weaker trees - those with less sunlight or less access to water sources. This can be noted as trees of the same age are already varying in size. General Sherman is the largest but not the oldest sequoia; the tree's size can be attributed to the luck of having its seed fall in an excellent location.

Walk along the Congress Trail and enjoy both young and old sequoias. While stopping to admire the youngsters, try to determine which will be survivors. Which of these saplings will live through the droughts and the fires? Which will grow tall, drop its lower limbs to help protect it from subsequent fires, and drink deep of the mountain waters? Somewhere out there is the next General Sherman Tree.

Contact: Deb Schweizer, Fire Education Specialist
Phone: (559) 565-3703

*This story supports the Department of the Interior initiatives.