Yosemite National Park's iconic sequoia trees threatened by Washburn Fire

The fire at Yosemite National Park began on Thursday and residents have been informed of possible evacuations

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A wildfire prompted the closure of Yosemite National Park’s Mariposa Grove in California, home to over 500 towering sequoia trees, park officials announced Thursday. 

The Washburn Fire, which is burning near the lower part of Mariposa Grove, is estimated to be 60 to 70 acres, the National Park Service said.

"Firefighters are suppressing the fire from the ground and air. The Mariposa Grove is closed until further notice," the park said. "However, other areas of Yosemite remain open."

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The fire was first reported on the park’s Washburn Trail in the Mariposa Grove’s lower section on Thursday around 2 p.m. by 911 callers, Nancy Phillipe, a Yosemite fire information spokesperson said. 

In this photo released by the National Park Service, a firefighter sprays water on a sequoia tree near the lower portion of the Mariposa Grove as smoke rises from the Washburn Fire in Yosemite National Park, Calif., Thursday, July 7, 2022.

In this photo released by the National Park Service, a firefighter sprays water on a sequoia tree near the lower portion of the Mariposa Grove as smoke rises from the Washburn Fire in Yosemite National Park, Calif., Thursday, July 7, 2022. (National Park Service via AP)

On Thursday night, the wildfire grew rapidly. The fire was first mapped at 46 acres on Thursday night, but grew to an estimated 250 acres by Friday morning with no containment. 

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Authorities evacuated the area as firefighters battled the blaze with engines, crews and aircraft.

"Our priorities are certainly the giant sequoias and the community of Wawona," which lies within the park, Phillipe said.

The sequoias are threatened by the flames, but there have been no reports of severe damage to the grove’s named sequoias, such as the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant, Phillipe continued. 

"We’re really hitting it hard, as much as we can," she said.

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The California Department of Transportation warned residents of Wawona, a town within Yosemite, to prepare for potential evacuation because of the Washburn Fire.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

Yosemite is one of the most visited and beloved National Parks in the U.S., drawing more than 3.3 million people in 2021. Mariposa Grove reopened to the public in 2018 after being closed for three years for the largest restoration project in the park’s history, according to the park service.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.