• Giant Sequoia Trees

    Sequoia & Kings Canyon

    National Parks California

There are park alerts in effect.
show Alerts »
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Institute Stage 2 Fire Restrictions

    Effective July 28, 2014, the parks are in Stage 2 fire restrictions. See link below for more information. These restrictions will remain in place until further notice. More »

  • Road Construction Delays on Park Roads for 2014 Season

    Expect occasional 15-min. to 1-hour delays in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks beginning Monday, June 2, weekdays only, between 5:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., including delays to/from the General Sherman Tree, Crystal Cave, and Grant Grove. More »

  • Vehicle Length Limits in Sequoia National Park (if Entering/Exiting Hwy 198)

    Planning to see the "Big Trees" in Sequoia National Park? If you enter/exit via Hwy. 198, please pay close attention to vehicle length advisories for your safety and the safety of others. More »

  • You May Have Trouble Calling Us

    We are experiencing technical problems receiving incoming phone calls. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please send us an email to SEKI_Interpretation@nps.gov or check the "More" link for trip-planning information. More »

Wild or Prescribed: Two Kinds of Fires

The story of fire can be confusing. You are asked to prevent wildfires, yet park personnel set prescribed fires. Fires are given different labels, depending on whether or not they are wanted.

Wildfires are unwanted lightning- or human-caused fires. They are suppressed because they threaten lives, property, survival of the forest, or because they are too difficult to manage when and where they start. Fire suppression is a tremendous risk to firefighters, and consumes millions of tax dollars. The Kaweah Fire in August 1996 was started by a car's exhaust pipe in dry grass on a road shoulder. It burned 4,479 acres, risked the safety of over 1,500 fire fighters, and cost $4 million.

On the other hand, fire does contribute to forest health and public safety. Prescribed fire, whether started by nature or planned by people, is a carefully managed tool to achieve such goals. A fire's "prescription" includes detailed analyses of geographic and ecological conditions. A prescription is the window within which a fire may be ignited. These conditions maximize our ability to control the fire and to minimize smoke in local communities. If the weather doesn't meet the prescription, the fire is not ignited.

Why use a tool that appears to be as destructive as fire? Burning around buildings clears grass and other flammable material that would feed destructive fires. Other fires play important ecological roles. Lightning fires have burned frequently here for centuries. Some plant species, including giant sequoias, reproduce better after fire. An ash seedbed is critical to germination and growth of sequoia seedlings. Fire also opens the forest canopy, allowing sunlight to reach the seedlings. Historically, fires have burned in sequoia groves roughly every 5 to 15 years. In the past century, our suppression of fire has blocked this important process. Vast accumulations of deadwood increase wildfire hazards dramatically, and sequoias do not reproduce. Animal species also benefit as increased acorn production, abundant berries and herbaceous plants that come in after a fire provide increased forage for wildlife.

To reduce hazards and restore natural conditions, trained crews carefully plan the size and timing of fires. For the same reasons, lightning fires that are in prescription and away from buildings are not suppressed.

Trails around prescribed fires sometimes remain open, so please use caution. Ask rangers for information, and enjoy the chance to see a powerful natural tool in managing park resources.

Did You Know?

Sequoia cross-section shows evidence of much fire damage and recovery

Sequoia tree rings tell a fascinating story of survival and adaptation. Many sequoia cross-sections do not show a neat set of concentric growth rings. Among the rings are many scars — indicating repeated fire damage — and as many curved rings, the growth that eventually covered over the scars.