Many of Big Basin Redwoods State Park’s coast redwood trees, which have come to symbolize California’s grandeur and ecological diversity, are 1,000 to 1,800 years old, hundreds of feet tall and, in some instances, over 50 feet in circumference. Most were on fire earlier this week, as the CZU August Lightning Complex Fires tore through the park, causing several of the ancient trees to fall.
On Wednesday, the California Department of Parks and Recreation said in a statement that Big Basin Redwoods State Park—California’s oldest state park—had been “extensively damaged” by the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire in Santa Cruz County. As of Saturday morning, the fire has burned 63,000 acres, caused the evacuation of at least 77,000 people and is 5% contained, according to state officials.
Park officials said the park’s headquarters, “historic core” and campgrounds had all been damaged by the fires, and all campers, day visitors and park staff have been evacuated. The park is closed until further notice.
The 118-year-old park includes the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods trees south of San Francisco, and has been featured in numerous films and pieces of writing, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Mercury News reported on Friday that while “the vast majority” of the park’s redwoods are still standing, several have fallen, including one ancient redwood that had a base “more than a dozen feet across.” The News also reported that nearly every one of the park’s redwoods had been “scorched.”
“We are devastated to report that Big Basin, as we have known it, loved it and cherished it for generations, is gone,” the Sempervirens Fund, a nonprofit whose mission is to protect and preserve redwoods, said in a statement. “Early reports are that the wildfire has consumed much of the park’s historic facilities. We do not yet know the fate of the park’s grandest old trees.”
News reporter Ethan Baron also tweeted several photographs of the park’s devastation on Thursday and Friday.
The Sempervirens Fund’s statement explained that “redwood forests are resilient and fire-adapted,” and have actually benefited from intentional fires “since the purposeful burning done by indigenous people who tended this landscape for thousands of years.” The Fund also points out that the New York Times covered a fire in the Bay Area in 1904 and reported that Big Basin, “which contains some of the largest and finest redwoods trees in the State, seems doomed for destruction.” Yet Big Basin soldiered on.
“[W]e are confident that it will be reborn from the ashes and once again be a place that inspires and educates people from around the world,” the Sempervirens Fund continued.
Big Basin is among the more than two dozen parks that have been full or partially closed as several wildfires continue to burn throughout California. The Associated Press reports some of the fires are among the largest in California history, including the SCU Lightning Complex Fire and the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, which has killed at least four people and destroyed 560 buildings as of Saturday morning.