Crews battling a wildfire in Yosemite National Park were racing Wednesday to cut off the flames before they reach a small but renowned cluster of Giant Sequoia trees. The Merced Grove remained about a few miles from the advancing fire, and Northern California fire officials said they want to block the blaze off before it gets too close. “It needs to be protected,” Carlton Joseph, incident commander for the fire, told the San Francisco Chronicle. The Merced Grove is the smallest of the park’s three Giant Sequioa groves, with only about 20 of its towering trees — about 3,000 years old — remaining. The cluster is north of the small community of El Portal, where firefighters are slowly getting a handle on the wildfire.
An 860-strong crew worked to increase the wildfire’s containment from 19 percent to 34 percent, Cal Fire said late Tuesday. What park officials described as its “extremely steep and remote terrain” has meant a reliance on elite hotshot crews on the ground backed up by an extensive aerial fleet, including a DC-10 Air Tanker. Big Oak Flat Road, a major access route, is among several closed roads and the communities of Old El Portal and Foresta remained under threat. El Portal is the latest blaze in a fierce year of wildfires for California and the West after three years of crippling drought. Another large blaze east of Sacramento was at 90 percent containment, Cal Fire said early Wednesday.