Editorial: Will tin foil save giant sequoias? Let’s hope so

The historic General Sherman tree was protected from fires by structure wrap.
The historic General Sherman tree is wrapped in protective aluminum foil at Sequoia National Park in California.
(Gary Kazanjian / AFP via Getty Images)

Giant sequoias are hardy souls. They have stood their ground in California for as long as thousands of years, surviving drought, earthquakes and wildfire.

With their thick bark and seemingly sky-high crowns, they have generally defied any fire that would turn them into kindling — and even thrived after a burn. The heat causes the trees’ pine cones to burst open and release seeds to the ground.

But as hotter blazes like the KNP Complex fire — ignited by lightning on Sept. 9 and still uncontained — headed into the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in the Sierra Nevada, the trees needed some extra help. And they got it in the form of aluminum foil.


Now, the largest tree, by volume, in the world is cradled in shiny, silvery wrap.

As befits a 2,200-year-old tree, it has a name. The General Sherman is 275 feet tall with a 36-foot-wide base. But despite all that heft and history, Sherman looks heartbreakingly vulnerable with a skirt of foil unevenly wrapped around it — like a giant baked potato you hope doesn’t get cooked. Does this really work? Shouldn’t the foil go higher up? In fact, the foil rises at least 6 feet up, but the tree is so tall by comparison it seems as if it’s outfitted in tin foil socks rather than a suit of armor.

This is not exactly the foil you have in your kitchen drawer. It’s a thicker kind of aluminum blanket used by firefighters for personal protection if they are overrun by a wildfire, and it is often draped on structures as well. It could stop embers from hitting the trees and reflect heat off of them as well.

Also wrapped in foil are the Four Guardsmen, a group of giant sequoias on the western edge of the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park.

An army of firefighters has also raked flammable vegetation away from the base of the giant trees, and set low-intensity fires to burn off other organic material nearby. So far, the state’s most prominent trees appear to be surviving.

This is still a ferocious battle, and climate change and other factors have made wildfires more brutal. Last year’s Castle fire killed thousands of sequoias in California.


The KNP Complex fire has not given up. But the General Sherman hasn’t, either.