Updated Jul 11, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Yosemite crews rush to protect sequoias as fire swells to over 2,000 acres

A wildfire burns in Yosemite National Park on July 11, 2022.
The wildfire burning in Yosemite National Park over the weekend. Photo: Yosemite Fire and Aviation/Facebook

A wildfire in Yosemite National Park that's threatening some of the world's oldest giant sequoia trees has triggered air quality alerts and evacuation orders after growing five-fold over the weekend.

By the numbers: The Washburn Fire that was first reported last Thursday near the Washburn Trail in the Mariposa Grove area of the park had burned across at least 2,044 acres by Sunday evening, according to InciWeb, an interagency website that tracks wildfires.

  • National Park Service spokesperson Nancy Phillip said about 1,600 people have evacuated since authorities issued evacuation orders for the nearby community of Wawona and the Wawona Hotel and campground, Reuters reports.

The big picture: The blaze has forced the closure of Mariposa Grove, which is home to more than 500 giant sequoias, and a nearby highway as firefighters and park crews battle to save the iconic trees, per a National Park Service update.

  • "They're using a combination of removing fuel around the base of the trees and they're putting in sprinklers to change the humidity around the base of the trees," Jay Nichols, a spokesperson for the interagency fire response team in the park, told NBC News.
  • Mandatory evacuation orders for the grove and Wawona remained in place on Sunday.

Threat level: U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Stanley Bercovitz told the Los Angeles Times that Sunday turned out to be "hotter and drier" than expected, and those conditions were forecast to continue for much of the week.

  • "That makes conditions harder for the firefighters and better for burning, unfortunately," Bercovitz said.

Context: Leading scientific research shows climate change is a key driver in increased wildfire risk.

  • Extreme weather events tied to human-caused global warming are slamming disparate parts of the world this year, Axios' Andrew Freedman notes.

What to watch: A "warming trend" was expected to take place through Monday "as high pressure strengthens over the area," per Inciweb.

  • "Hot and dry conditions will persist through at least the end of the week. Winds will be generally light and terrain-driven," Inciweb said. "Smoke from the fire will continue to impact Yosemite National Park for the next few days due to southerly transport winds."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Nichols and Bercovitz, fresh information on the fire's size, the weather forecast and further context.

Go deeper