The mighty Elaho Giant has stood in place since the days when Vikings were settling on this continent, but now a raging wildfire has tested its resilience.
The Douglas fir, estimated to be 1,000 years old, is believed to be the third largest of its species in the world by circumference. It would take five adult men holding hands to surround it.
The Giant’s home in the steep, forested terrain of the Elaho Valley west of Pemberton is the site of a 700-hectare wildfire. The blaze swept over the ancient tree this weekend and firefighters are battling to save its life.
“Yesterday, crews were finally able to clear enough danger trees out of the area to get in there and work on the tree itself,” fire information officer Donna MacPherson said Monday morning.
“There were some hot spots at the base of the roots, but they were working to try to get rid of them to hopefully keep that tree alive.”
The tree measures more than nine metres in circumference and 2.7 metres in diameter. The largest Douglas fir in the world is also in B.C.: The Red Creek Fir in Port Renfrew has a circumference of 12 metres.
The Giant was first discovered by activists from the Wilderness Committee during a mid-1990s campaign opposing a road planned for the valley, according to Joe Foy.
“As they were flagging a trail route, they ran into this gigantic Douglas fir tree,” said Foy, the committee’s national campaign director.
Rough estimates put the tree’s age at more than 1,000 years but nobody has been able to take a core sample to confirm that, Foy said. Core samples from other Douglas firs suggest they could be as old as 1,300 years — making them the most ancient known examples of their species on the planet.
Some of the forest burning in the wildfire is “really significant” in terms of ecological value, Foy said. “In the area where the fire is, its big claim to fame is these beautiful, extremely old Douglas fir trees.”
He pointed out that Douglas firs do have relatively fire resistant bark, but said he was concerned that some important heritage trees may be destroyed by firefighters as they try to contain the blaze.
The wildfire, about 67 km west of Pemberton, is now 35 per cent contained. No structures are in immediate danger, but the Wildfire Management Branch is asking hikers and other adventurous types to stay away from the area.
“The fire that burned through the area last week (was) very intense, and when that happens what occurs is that the trees become very unstable because the root systems are burnt through,” MacPherson said.
“These trees are very susceptible to spontaneously falling over.”
Road access has been restricted at the 53-km mark of the Elaho River Valley Road.
Investigators believe that the fire was caused by human activity, but the exact source is under investigation.
The weather forecast for the area calls for hot and dry weather over the next week, and officials have warned that the fire could continue to grow. A total of 95 firefighters, five helicopters and two pieces of heavy equipment have been assigned to the area.
The Upper Elaho Valley, which encompasses the northern tip of the wildfire, was the site of intense protests against old-growth logging operations in 1999 and 2000. Activist Betty Krawczyk and another protester ended up in jail for their blockades against International Forest Products contractors. Five front-line loggers also received suspended sentences for torching the protesters’ camp and roughing up activists.
Much of the Upper Elaho Valley is now a protected area.