Wildfires sparked by lightning storms in California last week have forced the closure of Sequoia National Park, home to some of the world's oldest and largest trees.
The Paradise and Colony fires, both triggered by the storms, have yet to be contained, already burning through nearly 6,000 acres, according to Cal Fire, the state's firefighting agency. And it's not just visitors that are being asked to stay away; employee housing in the park is also under a mandatory evacuation order.
Chris Boss/KNP Complex Fire Incident Command Paradise and Colony Fires seen from Buck Rock Fire Lookout
The park is home to a large collection of ancient sequoia trees, including the particularly famous General Sherman Tree, which is estimated to be more than 2,000 years old. In addition to being one of the oldest trees on earth, the General Sherman — standing at nearly 275 feet tall — is also among the largest. The park also shelters the popular Giant Forest, where more than 2,000 giant sequoias can be found.
KNP Complex Fire Incident Command
"We understand the importance of protecting iconic features such as the General Sherman Tree, the Congress Trail, and the Giant Forest sequoia grove, and we'll do everything we can to keep them safe," the National Park Service (NPS) said.
California's sequoias are accustomed to fires, but they have become increasingly severe and threatening to the towering giants in recent years.
KNP Complex Fire Incident Command Smoke plume from the Paradise Fire on 09/12/2021
A fire that started from a lighting strike last year destroyed approximately 370 ancient sequoias in Sequoia National Park alone, according to the NPS. Thousands more were destroyed in neighboring areas and in Sequoia National Forest.
The U.S. Forest Service has already closed down all of its parks in California, including Sequoia National Forest.
It's unclear how long Sequoia National Park will remain closed, but new campground reservations in the park have been suspended through the end of September. Nearby Kings Canyon National Park remains open, though officials are cautioning visitors about poor air quality and rapidly changing fire conditions.
Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets and walking on beaches. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.