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 become extremely active, sending significant columns of smoke upward. These fires later merged to form the KNP Complex Fire.

Photo by Chris Boss

 

Overview

On Thursday September 9, 2021, the Cabin, Colony, and Paradise fires, were ignited by lightning. The three fires were discovered on September 10. 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, this large fire is still an active incident.

As of November 12, 2021, fire containment was at 75%. Threats to communities, infrastructure, and natural and cultural resources have been significantly reduced. The uncontained parts of the fire perimeter are mainly located in wilderness areas and are exhibiting minimal activity. However, serious hazards exist in areas that have already burned. Changing weather conditions will play a role in future fire activity.

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

Fire Information

  • InciWeb KNP Complex web page - briefings, maps, images, evacuation notices. This site is no longer being updated daily, but will be updated if there are important changes to report.
  • KNP Complex FAQs page - answers to questions related to trip planning (camping, lodging, backpacking) and information about resources at risk.
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon Facebook - fire and reopening updates in addition to general parks information.
  • News Releases - While news releases are no longer being generated daily for the KNP Complex, find an archive of daily updates on the fire during its most active period here.
  • Air Quality Information - general information on air quality in the parks.
 
a firefighter rakes material away from the base of the General Sherman Tree
Two wildland firefighters work to protect the General Sherman Tree. Firefighters use fire resistant structure wrap to cover the tree, and rake dead tree branches and other burnable plant material away from its base.

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 have worked in close partnership with the parks on these fires since their discovery.

Priorities

The protection of people and communities is the highest priority in this fire suppression operation. Communities that have been at risk at some point during the fire thus far 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 have been subject to evacuation warnings or evacuation orders, but the majority of these have been lifted.

Another high priority is the protection of park resources, such as 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 have been 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, meaning that they worked at a distance from the fire's edge, in terrain where it was possible to operate with an acceptable margin of safety and a higher probability of success. There have been more opportunities to go direct, meaning working right along the edge of the fire to prevent any further growth, as the fire has moved into more accessible terrain and favorable weather has moderated fire activity.

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 have 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 has also sometimes prevented aircraft from flying. In addition, the prolonged drought in California has killed thousands of trees in the parks, making them receptive to fire. Furthermore, due to the ongoing drought, live plants and trees have a very low percentage of moisture, meaning they are also more 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 The majority of Kings Canyon National Park and large sections of the wilderness of Sequoia National Park reopen to the public. Ran and snow fall in the parks the evening before opening, slowing fire growth. Containment is now estimated at 55%.
October 25, 2021 An atmospheric river forecasted for the parks brings 2-3 inches of rain. As water flows downstream, rivers temporarily run black from ash and sediment. Some roads in the parks experience small debris flows that temporarily block access. Fire managers and road crews continue to monitor the fire area for possible landslides and debris flows after the significant rain event.
November 9, 2021 A Burn Area Emergency Response Team visits the parks and evaluates the frie area for hazards. A report is issued and shared at a public meeting on next step for fire recovery, both short term and long term.
November 11, 2021 A portion of Sequoia National Park reopens for the Veteran's Day holiday and Fee Free Day. Visitors are permitted to drive along the Generals Highway as far as Hospital Rock. Fire containment is estimated at 75%.

 
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 highly-visited areas that fall within the fire footprint can be reopened for public use, assessments and hazard mitigations are necessary.

The first step in this process is for a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team to work with the KNP Complex and begin to evaluate post-fire conditions. The team made up of hydrologists, biologists, archeologists, and soil scientists will make 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.

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

 
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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

 

Fire Management 101

What is an Incident Management Team? What is the significance of having a Type 1 Team manage this fire, versus Type 2 or Type 3?

Incident Management Teams are made up of wildland fire professionals, with a variety of specializations. Teams come in from the outside to manage fires, emergencies, or events that are too large and complicated to be managed by the local staff alone. In addition to fires, Incident Management Teams also manage search and rescues, floods, hurricanes, or other complex incidents.

A Type 1 team provides the highest, most complex level of incident managment. These teams provide operational, logistical, informational, planning, fiscal, community, political, and safety management. Type 1 Teams include people from federal, state, and local agencies.

Learn more about the firefighters working in the parks, even when large fires like the KNP Complex aren't happening.

 

Last updated: November 17, 2021

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47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers , CA 93271

Phone:

559 565-3341

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