Two monarch giant sequoias that are known as “The Orphans” in Calaveras Big Trees State Park are alive and surrounded by seedlings one year after a prescribed burn left them with “significant scorch” damage.

A group of scientists made the trek to the North Grove, located just over 100 miles southeast of Sacramento, in early October and documented the state of the two trees and the seedlings.

“Sequoia regeneration is one key forest management goal in (the park), and witnessing the results of the burn program through this new growth shows the importance of fire in the ecosystem,” said Danielle Gerhart, the Central Valley District Superintendent of the state parks system.

Wildfires, which have burned millions of acres of California forest land in the last two decades, are very much a part of nature and are key in the reproduction of sequoias, according to state parks officials.

Fires kill some of the trees and plants, allowing the survivors to receive more energy, and allowing more sunlight to reach the young vegetation.

The heat from the fires also opens sequoia cones, which then release seeds.

In recent years, California has increased the amount of prescribed fires, which are controlled by fire crews, to help in this natural process and to reduce the amount of fuels that could burn when a wildfire breaks out.

“Sometimes there are minimal losses of ancient trees even in a restorative prescribed fire,” said Kristen Shive, one of the scientists who visited the North Grove. “Giant sequoias are not museum pieces, and some mortality is part of this living, dynamic ecosystem.”

“But the potential for minimal losses in prescribed fire is far preferable to the thousands of ancient trees that were killed in 2020 and 2021, when fuel-loaded forests burned in severe wildfires.”