Windy Fire burned into several Giant Sequoia groves

National Park Service is beginning to assess the damage left by the Windy Fire now that it is nearly extinguished

PORTERVILLE – The fourth straight year of sizable wildfire blazes has taken its toll on Tulare County’s treasured forests. The latest Windy Fire has done the same, and the National Park Service is beginning to find out how devastating it was.

The lightning-caused Windy Fire, now 97,554 acres burned into eleven giant sequoia groves, eight within the forest, two on the Tule River Indian Reservation, and one shared across both agency boundaries.

“Like many wildfires, the Windy Fire threatened people and communities and their protection was our highest priority,” forest supervisor Teresa Benson stated. “Our Forest and the public have lost homes, historic landmarks, and several natural treasures over the past few years due to wildfire. We ask for your patience while we fully assess damage to lands managed by the Sequoia National Forest. Additional information will be shared as soon as it becomes available.”

According to resource advisor Garrett Dickman, initial observations determined the Starvation Creek Grove experienced a high-severity fire that, despite firefighter efforts, burned all but four mature giant sequoias within the grove boundary. Thanks to recent wildfires and fuels reduction efforts, fire severity in the Black Mountain, Red Hill and Cunningham Groves was less

Several groves: Peyrone, South Peyrone, Packsaddle, and Deer Creek still need to be evaluated once fire hazards have been abated. It may take months to complete a full evaluation of impacts on our giant sequoia groves. With winter coming, this task will likely begin in the spring.

The Long Meadow Grove, including the iconic Trail of 100 Giants, was targeted early with measures to prepare the trees before and actions taken after fire spread through it. For years, forest officials have been undertaking fuels reduction treatments, thinning small-diameter trees, hazard trees and pile burning at the Trail of 100 Giants.

This pretreatment and extensive mop-up around sequoia trees kept the area adjacent to the trail mostly unscathed. A significant loss, despite efforts to save it, was the boardwalk. It was undergoing repairs after a fallen giant sequoia tree landed on it in 2019.

Other Forest Service improvements destroyed by the Windy Fire include the Mule Peak Lookout and structures surrounding it, including the shed near the parking area. Three historic cabins, Frog Meadow Guard Station, Powder Horn, and Speas Dirty Camp Cabins were lost. Outbuildings, storage sheds, and some wooden bridges were also burned, despite efforts to save them. The status of other improvements remains unknown; numerous fire hazards are preventing access due to safety concerns. It may be next spring or summer before a complete list is compiled of Forest Service infrastructure lost from the Windy Fire.

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