Science | June 5, 2021 12:12 pm

One Wildfire Destroyed 10% of the World’s Sequoias in 2020

The culprit? Climate change.

Aftermath of fire
One of the monster wildfires birthed by California's August lightning blitz, the Castle fire burned through portions of roughly 20 giant sequoia groves on the western slopes of the Sierra, the only place on the planet they naturally grow.
Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Last year abounded with catastrophes across the planet. One such alarming incident took place in California, where the worst wildfires in the state’s history raged over the course of 2020. A report at The Guardian reported that the wildfire season ended up leaving 4.1 million acres of land burned. For those looking for a point of reference for what 4.1 million acres looks like: that’s about the same size as the state of Connecticut.

Besides the overall destruction left in the wake of the wildfires, scientists are also quantifying some of the more specific aspects of the devastation. A new article by Brian Kahn at Earther offers one such data point: 2020’s Castle Fire destroyed 10% of the planet’s sequoias.

Kahn offers a reminder of just how old some of these trees were. “As Christianity rose, the Han Dynasty collapsed, and countless other human activities proliferated around the world, sequoias still alive today silently rose to towering heights in isolated pockets of California’s Sierra Nevada,” he noted. And as a result of one catastrophic incident, a significant portion of them are now gone.

As several of the scientists quoted in the article point out, sequoias are often able to survive wildfires. What changed last year? If you answered climate change, you are correct. “[R]ising carbon dioxide has created a much different climate, one that favors explosive fires that can leap between the crowns of trees,” Kahn wrote. It’s something that leaves those tasked with protecting the remaining trees with a lot to consider before the next wildfires strike.