Suspect arrested in fire threatening sequoias
KERNVILLE, California (CNN) -- A woman accused of starting a wildfire that is burning about a half mile from a stand of ancient sequoia trees was taken into custody Wednesday, the U.S. Forest Service said.
The woman was apprehended by a Forest Service law enforcement officer about 1 p.m., said Jill Slater, a Forest Service spokeswoman. She had no other details.
Firefighters have been battling unpredictable conditions in an effort to contain part of the blaze, dubbed the McNalley fire. The fire, which began Sunday afternoon, has charred 50,123 acres in the Sequoia National Forest, and is uncontained, said a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.
The most threatened of the thousand-year-old sequoias are those within the Giant Sequoia National Monument, created by former President Clinton to extend protection to trees outside Sequoia National Park.
The trees inside the Sequoia National Park -- about 40 miles away from the fire -- remain unthreatened.
Sequoia bark is naturally fire-resistant, and the trees' high, widely spaced branches reduce the chance of flames engulfing the entire crown. But human efforts to prevent fires have allowed trees around the tall sequoias to grow higher and allowed litter to build up on the forest floor, leading to hotter, higher fires, experts say.
The lack of periodic, lower-temperature fires also have inhibited sequoias' ability to reproduce -- sequoia cones release their seeds only when heated by fire.
Boy Scouts among evacuees
Erratic winds and the threat of thunderstorms continue to hamper firefighting efforts, which are being bolstered by 12 air tankers and 10 helicopters.
The Pack Saddle Grove, about a square mile wide, is the closest stand of sequoias at roughly a half mile from the fire's edge. The Starvation Grove, at about half the size, is about 2 miles away.
The fire has forced the evacuation of 1,000 people in southern California, including 400 Boy Scouts at a camp and the communities of Ponderosa and Johnsondale, where many people have second homes.
The Boy Scouts had to abandon their camp when the fire started Sunday.
The Forest Service has deployed tons of equipment and more than 1,000 fire personnel to battle the McNalley fire, which is about 50 miles northeast of Bakersfield.
All told, some 29 large wildfires -- each 500 acres or more -- are burning this week in eight states: Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Montana.
About 3.7 million acres have burned since the beginning of the year -- more than twice the number of acres than the average for the same period in the last 10 years. (Breakdown of western wildfires)
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