FRESNO (AP) — Gusting winds and tinderbox dry conditions hampered firefighters battling a blaze Monday in a protected wilderness area of Sequoia National Forest where heavy equipment isn't allowed.
So far, the fire has not significantly damaged an ancient stand of giant Sequoia trees, including one named for President George H.W. Bush after he signed a proclamation protecting all of the groves of giant redwoods in the Sierra Nevada.
The fire quickly moved from the Freeman Creek Giant Sequoia Grove into the Golden Trout Wilderness.
"We can only use minimal impact suppression tactics," incident spokesman Raj Singh said. "Being in a wilderness, we can't go in there with bulldozers or drop retardant. We do drops but it's mostly water. Most of the work we're doing is hand-line construction."
Because of dry conditions and a lack of snowfall this winter, the U.S. Forest Service decided to aggressively fight the fire instead of letting it burn, Singh said.
"As of right now and based on all of those conditions, if this fire were to burn for rehab it has the potential to get very large very fast," Singh said.
The fire was raging in an area rich with pines and brush that haven't burned in 140 years.
"It's burning away from the George tree right now," said Denise Alonzo, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman. "It burned very gently along the ground in the grove. I don't believe that any of the giant trees were scorched."
Fire officials named the blaze the George Fire.
The fire was 25 percent contained, but fire officials said winds at 12-15 mph were making it travel erratically and hindering their ability to bring it under control. The fire has jumped all of the break lines dug by hand crews. As of Monday morning, it had consumed 1,700 acres, and officials planned to do a survey at sunset to assess how much larger it had grown.
The only development threatened was a scout camp, where crews created a fire line to protect buildings storing camping equipment.
Investigators were trying to determine the cause of the fire.
More than 500 firefighters battled the blaze with help from air tankers, and more were on the way. Rangers, meanwhile, tried to warn backcountry hikers in the Golden Trout Wilderness.
The fire began to the east of grove at 5,500 feet elevation and burned up and over Castle Rock at 7,000 feet before moving downhill. Firefighters from multiple agencies and hot shot crews were working the blaze.