Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Standing Redwood Burns Fourteen Months

The Chimney Tree, Big Basin.
Courtesy Jill Ramar
Redwoods are somewhat fire resistant and can survive, and in fact heal, after being burned. "Other trees are consumed, but the redwoods battle with the demon and conquer." In August 1907, the Santa Cruz Sentinel asked: "Stand beside the chimney tree and ask its story. It will relate seige [sic] after seige [sic] with the fire fiend."

In 1911, the Chimney Tree, pictured here, was described in the Sentinel: "Its burnt-off top being 150 feet high, the entire tree being hollow inside like a flue, with green limbs growing from the top. To stand in the trunk of this tree and look up through the charred interior to the patch of blue sky far above, interlaced there with green branches, emphasizes the work of nature when producing the strange and awe-inspiring."

In 1904, a huge fire swept through the Big Basin area. It started near the Middleton mill on Waterman Creek and burned for 20 days, blackening around one third of the 3,900 acres of the park. "The fire was little more than a ground fire in the big timber regions. Fir, and other pitch trees suffered of course, but the big redwoods received little harm."

Below is an account from the Mountain Echo newspaper, November 18, 1905 edition. It tells of an unusual fire inside a redwood that erupted twice, months after the original 1904 blaze:

"Last May we published an account of a fire braking out in the top of a large redwood tree in the [Big Basin Redwoods] State Park, where the big forest fire of the September previous, or in 1904, had swept.

This curious fire must have smoldered in the top of the tree from September 1904 to May 17th of this year, when it broke out about 140 feet from the ground and burned off about 10 feet at the top of the tree, which was already a “stub,” or broken topped tree. The tree then burned in the top for a short time and appeared to die out.

On the 7th of this month, or fourteen months after the original fire and nearly six months subsequent to the May eruption, the flames again burst forth in the top of this tree and there was again a roaring furnace of fire for a time and another section of about ten feet of the stubbed top was burned off and fell crashing to the ground. The fire then died down and has since appeared to be out.

It was fortunate that Park Warden Pilkington and his men happed to be at work on the road near by when the fire broke out on the 7th inst., as the woods roundabout were as dry as tinder and if the burning tree had not been promptly surrounded by a fire trail there would undoubtedly have been another fire-swept tract in the park, as the burning tree stands near the edge of last year’s burned district and near plenty of combustible material."

This article was first published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin in March 2019.

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