KNP Complex Fire

Distant mountains are framed on the left and right by plumes of smoke from wildfires. A halo of smoke covers the horizon.
On September 13, 2021, the Paradise and Colony fires became extremely active, sending significant columns of smoke upward. These fires later merged to form the KNP Complex Fire.

Photo by Chris Boss

 
Map showing final perimeter of the KNP Complex
The final perimeter of the KNP Complex, published on 12/18/2021

Overview

On Thursday September 9, 2021, the Cabin, Colony, and Paradise Fires were ignited by lightning and discovered the following day. The 1.25-acre Cabin Fire was quickly contained, but the Colony and Paradise fires presented serious challenges to firefighting and spread rapidly. The two fires merged into one large fire on September 17, 2021, referred to as the KNP Complex.

The fire was declared 100 percent contained on December 16, 2021, after significant precipitation events occurred across the Sierra Nevada. However, serious hazards exist in burned areas, such as falling trees, debris flows, and rockfall. Even though the fire is contained, it can still burn in heavy fuels and continue to smolder there through multiple precipitation events, or even all winter, and become active again when the fuels dry. Changing weather conditions will play a role in future fire activity inside the containment lines.

The majority of the acreage of the KNP Complex is within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. It also burned on Sequoia National Forest, as well as lands under county and state jurisdiction.

Archived Fire Information

  • InciWeb KNP Complex web page - briefings, maps, images, evacuation notices. This site is no longer being updated regularly.
  • News Releases - While news releases are no longer being generated for the KNP Complex, you can find daily updates on the fire during its most active period here.
 
a firefighter rakes material away from the base of the General Sherman Tree
Two wildland firefighters work to protect the General Sherman Tree. Firefighters used fire-resistant structure protection wrap to cover the base of the tree, and raked dead tree branches and other burnable plant material out of the surrounding area.

Full Suppression Strategy

As soon as the fires were discovered, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks immediately took full suppression action, meaning that the goal was to totally extinguish them. Additional air and ground resources were ordered immediately. Cal Fire, Tulare County Fire, and Tulare County Sheriff's Office worked in close partnership with the parks on these fires since their discovery.

Priorities

The protection of people and communities was the highest priority in the fire suppression operation. Communities that were at risk at some point during the fire include Wilsonia, Three Rivers, Mineral King, Silver City and Cabin Cove, Advance, Eshom, Hartland, Hume Lake, and employee residences within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Sequoia National Forest. Nearly all of these communities were subject to evacuation warnings or orders at some period in time, some for many weeks.

Another high priority during the fire was the protection of park resources, including giant sequoias, historic cabins, and archeological sites. Sequoias are the largest trees in the world, and among the oldest (some sequoias are more than 3,000 years old). Their only natural range is within California’s Sierra Nevada, and there are numerous sequoia groves in the parks. While giant sequoias are a fire-adapted species, special efforts were made to protect iconic groves from burning at high intensity.

Tactics

Initial attack on the fires relied heavily on aircraft, dropping retardant and water on the fire. As the fires grew, ground crews utilized indirect firefighting tactics. This meant that they worked at a distance from the fire's edge and in terrain where it was possible to operate with an acceptable margin of safety and a higher probability of success. There were some opportunities for direct attack as the fire moved into more accessible terrain and favorable weather moderated fire activity. This allowed firefighters to work right along the edge of the fire to attempt to prevent any further growth.

Bulldozers and masticators were brought in to cut wide fuel breaks, tactical burning operations were performed, and giant sequoias and structures were wrapped in fire-resistant structure protection wrap. The teams managing the fire used new technologies like fire retardant gel on some cabins and giant sequoias.

Obstacles

When the fires were discovered on September 10, it was immediately evident that putting them out would be difficult, due to the extemely steep terrain, lack of trail or road access, and risk to firefighters posed by high density of standing dead trees. Poor visibility due to extremely smoky conditions sometimes prevented aircraft from flying. In addition, the prolonged drought in California had killed thousands of trees in the parks, making them receptive to fire. The drought also meant that live plants and trees had a low percentage of moisture and were likely to ignite and carry fire.

 

KNP Complex Fire Timeline

September
9, 2021
A major lightning storm occurs in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the surrounding areas. More than 200 lightning strikes occur in the parks.
September 10, 2021 Three new wildfires are reported in the parks, and plans to put out the fires are immediatley put into action. The fires are named the Cabin, Colony, and Paradise.
September 11, 2021 As the fire grows, the Generals Highway from the Sequoia Entrance Station to Giant Forest is closed. The Colony and Paradise Fires are designated the KNP Complex.
September 12, 2021 The Cabin Fire is declared 100% contained. Due to the steep, densely forested terrain, and limited visibility for aircraft, the KNP Complex continues to present a challenge to fire managers. The Generals Highway is closed north of the Giant Forest.
September 13, 2021 The Paradise Fire grows to 807 acres and the Colony Fires grows to 120 acres. Evacuations are issued in the neighboring community of Three Rivers.
September 14, 2021 Lodgepole and Ash Mountain employee housing areas and NPS headquarters are evacuated. The Paradise Fire is 2,531 acres and the Colony Fire is 493 acres. The parks work closely with Cal Fire, BLM, and Tulare County Sherrif's Office as potential for fire growth poses risk to nearby BLM lands and neighboring communities.
September 15, 2021 The fires grow significantly. The Paradise Fire has a new acreage of 5,914 acres, and the Colony Fire has a new acreage of 1,125 acres, with 0% containment.
September 16, 2021 A Type 1 Incident Management Team assumes command of the KNP Complex.
September 17, 2021 The Paradise and Colony fires merge into one fire. The world's largest giant sequoia, the General Sherman tree, is prepped for encroaching fire.
September 18, 2021 Fire arrives in the Giant Forest and nearby developed areas. Fire intensity is low to moderate due to significant prep work and many years of prescribed burn treatments in this area. Despite close proximity, fire does not burn through the Lodgepole or Wukaschi Lodge areas.
September 21, 2021 Growth to the north prompts the closure of Kings Canyon National Park. The only areas in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks that remain open are wilderness lands east of the Pacific Crest Trail.
September 23, 2021 Firefighters conduct tactical firing operations near Ash Mountain and in Giant Forest.
October 3, 2021 The fire slops over Mineral King Road near Lookout Point, resulting in the re-evacuation of several neighborhoods.
October 4, 2021 Fire activity significantly increases. The fire burns at high intensity up Redwood Creek and into Redwood Mountain Grove, destroying a historic cabin and mature giant sequoias.
October 8, 2021 The KNP Complex splits into two zones, managed by two Type 1 Incident Management Teams.
October 11-14, 2021 After several days of favorable weather, containment climbs to 45%. Evacuation warnings are removed for Three Rivers, Hartland, and Eshom. Park employees are permitted to return to housing in Grant Grove, Cedar Grove, and Ash Mountain.
October 18, 2021 Rain and snow fall in the parks, slowing fire growth. Containment is now estimated at 55%. The majority of Kings Canyon National Park and large sections of the wilderness of Sequoia National Park reopen to the public.
October 25, 2021 An atmospheric river brings 2-3 inches of rain. As water flows downstream, rivers temporarily run black with ash and sediment. Some roads in the parks experience small debris flows that temporarily block access.
November 9, 2021 A Burn Area Emergency Response Team visits the parks and evaluates the fire area for hazards. A report is issued and shared at a public meeting on next steps for fire recovery, both short-term and long-term.
November 11, 2021 The Generals Highway in Sequoia National Park reopens as far as Hospital Rock. Fire containment is estimated at 75%.
December 11, 2021 The Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park reopens for public access Friday-Sunday as weather and road conditions allow.
December 15, 2021 A Burned Area Emergency Response Report is issued, providing recommendation to the parks on actions post-fire.
December 16, 2021 In light of significant rain and snowfall across the entire fire footprint, the fire is declared 100% contained.
Mar 13-19, 2022 The remaining employees displaced due to the KNP Complex Fire return to their homes in the Lodgepole area of Sequoia National Park.

 
An aerial view of a grove of giant sequoia trees partially burned and brown from fire damage.
Fire ecologists evaluate early effects of the fire on the Oriole giant sequoia grove from the air. Some trees show signs of fire damage, but their canopies remain intact.

NPS / Anthony Caprio

Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER)

Before areas that have been burned by major fire can be reopened for public use, assessments and hazard mitigations must take place.

For the KNP Complex Fire, the first step in this process was to bring in a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team to evaluate post-fire conditions in the parks. The BAER team, made up of hydrologists, biologists, archeologists, and soil scientists, made recommendations to Sequoia and Kings Canyon on immediate emergency actions to stabilize soils and prevent erosion, prevent loss of life and property, and protect critical and natural and cultural resources.

Our Burned Area Emergency Response Plan provides details about steps to take as we work to recover from the fire, improve safety, and protect park resources and infrastructure.

Learn more about how our parks responded after a fire, and watch this video about what a BAER team does to help parks plan for post-fire restoration.

 

Sequoia Mortality

Perhaps the most enduring and tragic legacy of the KNP Complex is that it killed thousands of mature giant sequoias, irreplaceable in many human lifetimes. Visit the webpage for the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition to read reporting on the losses, and learn more about how the KNP Complex fits into the larger issue of giant sequoia mortality.
 
 
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Duration:
3 minutes, 41 seconds

A short film showing fire impacts from the KNP Complex Fire along the Generals Highway in Sequoia National Park

 

Additional Fire-related Resources

 

Last updated: September 16, 2022

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