As devastating wildfires tear through the Santa Cruz Mountains, officials reported Thursday afternoon that historic structures at Big Basin Redwoods State Park had burned to the ground.

On Wednesday evening, California State Parks released a statement noting that the 18,000-acre park “sustained extensive damage” but did not elaborate further.The park itself is closed indefinitely while the CZU August Lightning Complex — a group of fires ignited by lightning earlier this week — continues to blaze.

On Thursday, Santa Cruz District Superintendent for State Parks Chris Spohrer confirmed that park rangers had only been able to briefly access the park’s central area and that the park’s historic headquarters, lodge, ranger office, nature museum, store, maintenance shop and multiple park residences and campground restrooms were destroyed.“From what they described, it was a high-heat, high-intensity fire,” Spohrer told The Mercury News. “A lot of the canopy, they noted, had been burned. But it is too early to tell what the long-term damage is going to be to those trees.”All campers, rangers and visitors had been safely evacuated ahead of the flames, along with the surrounding communities.

Established in 1902, Big Basin is California’s oldest state park and it receives more than 1 million visitors every year from around the world. Its headquarters was built in 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps using local redwood logs and stone. It is registered with the National Register of Historic Places.

Notably, Big Basin gave rise to the movement to preserve coastal redwoods — the world’s tallest trees — from logging a century ago and many view its creation as a catalyst for the Golden State’s park system.A number of the towering redwoods found in Big Basin are more than 300 feet tall and some nearly 2,000 years old.While Redwood tree bark is heavily fire-resistant, intense firestorms can fell or severely harm their cambium — a layer of material under the bark, which transports water and nutrients.Many other parks with redwoods near the CZU Complex have also been closed until further notice, including Portola Redwoods State Park, Butano State Park, Rancho del Oso Unit, Año Nuevo State Park, Castle Rock State Park and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

On Friday, Cal Fire announced that the CZU Complex had burned up to 50,000 acres and destroyed 20 structures with 0% containment. There are currently 12,000 firefighters working to put out two dozen major blazes and there have been 560 new wildfires in the past week with over 771,000 acres burned in total.President Trump addressed the California wildfires on Thursday, which have now taken the lives of six people and forced tens of thousands out of their homes.“I see again the forest fires are starting,” he said at a rally in swing state Pennsylvania. “They’re starting again in California. I said,’ You gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests.’ There are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.”“Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us,” Trump added.

Most of California’s wildlands are federally managed.”I’ve been telling them this now for three years, but they don’t want to listen,” he said. “‘The environment, the environment,’ but they have massive fires again.”While all fires aren’t bad — they’re a normal part of lots of western ecosystems — the coronavirus pandemic has also had an impact on the way the state is able to use inmate firefighters to respond.

California declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

Appearing at this week’s Democratic National Convention, Gov. Gavin Newsom asserted that the disaster was the latest example of climate change.Pointing to record heat waves, Newsom called on climate-change deniers to come experience the fires for themselves.“The hots are getting hotter. The dries are getting drier. Climate change is real,” he said, appearing via cell phone video against a backdrop of redwoods. “If you are in denial about climate change, come to California.”
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