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Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove is site of celebration, relief as it reopens after monthlong fire closure

A black bear stands next to a towering giant sequoia tree as a few people watch nearby
The reopening of Mariposa Grove at Yosemite National Park brought out the tourists and even a curious bear.
(Scott Gediman / National Park Service)

After a nearly one-month closure, Yosemite National Park’s famed Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias reopened to the public this week, drawing hundreds of people who came together to celebrate the survival of the towering trees after they had been threatened by wildfire.

The 4,886-acre Washburn fire, which had posed danger to the grove’s 500 mature sequoias, was 100% contained, Yosemite park ranger Scott Gediman said, though some fire crews remain doing mop-up work and extinguishing hot spots. The crews will probably stay in the area for about another week or two, Gediman said.

Only a few trails in the grove remain closed, including the Washburn trail, the western portion of the perimeter trail, and the trail from Mariposa Grove to Wawona, but the most popular trails opened Wednesday, Gediman said.

“There’s definitely evidence that a fire came through. If you’re a visitor and you drive up, you’re going to see the burned area between the depot and the grove, but once you get to the grove and go up, everything’s great,” Gediman said.

Why was the Oak fire so much more destructive than the Washburn fire? Experts say it’s because of weather, terrain and forest management.

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The Washburn fire ignited July 7 along a forested trail in Yosemite National Park and initially caused fears of an environmental catastrophe, threatening the grove’s ancient trees. However, firefighters were able to attack the blaze early on, with no damage to structures or injuries, and major damage to the grove was averted.

“I’ve been through dozens of fires over my career and this one was just phenomenal. I’ve never seen such outpouring of support and care among visitors and firefighters,” Gediman said. “The whole region really came together to save the Mariposa Grove.”

There are fire scars on some trees, but no sequoias died, Gediman said. He also noted that because some of these trees are 2,000 to 3,000 years old and have seen a lot of fires, it’s difficult to determine which blaze caused the scars.

Flames burn logs on the ground in a grove of tall trees
The Washburn fire burns in the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias on July 8.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

Gediman headed to Mariposa Grove early Wednesday to celebrate the reopening and said he experienced “one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.” He met a family from Utah, who made a special trip to Mariposa Grove on their last day in Yosemite, and families from all over the world, including France, Israel and England.

“It was just a real sense of relief, a sense of excitement and celebration,” Gediman said. “People were thrilled to see the Mariposa Grove and relieved a little bit because they were worried about the trees. "

Thunderstorms and mudslides have hampered the battle against the McKinney fire in Klamath National Forest at the California-Oregon border, authorities said.

As he was walking the Grizzly Giant Loop — one of the most popular trails in Mariposa Grove — with visitors, Gediman experienced what he called “the perfect alignment of everything.”

The group was left mesmerized as they came across a bear with jet-black fur, which walked right next to a fire scar and around the trail for a few minutes before leaving.

“It was an unbelievable and magical moment. I just thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God, the [visitors] are here on opening day, on the Grizzly Giant, and you got a beautiful bear,’” Gediman said. “To me, that was just perfect.”


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