It was scorched and blackened by fire, but thanks in part to the quick action of B.C. fire crews, one of Canada’s oldest living things will live to see another day.
The Elaho Giant, estimated to be the third thickest Douglas fir on record, was caught in the middle of a 700-hectare fire that swept the woods outside Pemberton, B.C. over the weekend.
The giant’s base was blackened, and when crews arrived on scene, the tree stood surrounded by ash and “danger trees,” trees that have had their root systems burned off and were at imminent risk of falling over.
On Monday, fire information officer Donna MacPherson reported that wildland crews had worked their way into the steep, treacherous area to tamp out “hot spots” at the giant’s roots and “hopefully keep that tree alive.”
By Tuesday, the District of Squamish was proudly announcing to a worried public that the Elaho Giant had been saved.
“While the surface of the Elaho Giant is black at the lower base, the tree still stands and some green needles remain,” read a district of Squamish statement.
The Giant was first discovered by activists from the Wilderness Committee during a mid-1990s campaign to oppose a road planned for the valley, according to Joe Foy, the committee’s national campaign director.
“As they were flagging a trail route, they ran into this gigantic Douglas fir tree,” Foy said.
The surrounding area, the Upper Elaho Valley, was the site of intense protests against old-growth logging operations in 1999 and 2000, and the Giant became a potent focal point for environmentalists.
The tree, located at the edge of a clearcut, was ultimately spared. “It will not be logged,” John Tisdale with the Squamish Forest District announced upon the tree’s reprieve in 1995.
‘It’s a nice big tree. People should come have a look’
“It’s a nice big tree. People should come have a look,” he added.
Much of the surrounding Upper Elaho Valley is now a protected area.
The giant’s top has broken off, leaving it only 50 metres tall. Rough estimates put its age at more than 1,000 years, but nobody has been able to confirm as much with a core sample, Foy said.
Core samples from other nearby Douglas firs suggest they could be as old as 1,300 years — making the Elaho valley firs the most ancient known examples of their species on the planet.
The largest Douglas fir in the world, meanwhile, is also in B.C.: The Red Creek Fir in Port Renfrew has a circumference of 12 metres.
Given that the Elaho Giant stood among much younger tree brethren, it is quite likely that this is not the first time the fir has cheated death by forest fire.
“It’s a spectacular Douglas fir tree, but Douglas fir trees are known for resisting some level of fire. That’s what their bark is all about,” Foy said.
The fire was 40% contained as of Tuesday. Investigators believe the blaze was caused by human activity, although the exact source remains a mystery.
The 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 112 firefighters, a 13-person incident management team, five helicopters and two pieces of heavy equipment have been dedicated to the blaze.
The oldest tree ever identified in a Canadian forest was a yellow cedar on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast that was found to be 1,835 years old.
The tree was felled in a 1980 clearcut, although its stump was discovered by activists in 1993. The tree would have been a sapling in the year 145, when the Roman Empire was still consolidating its hold over what would become Great Britain.