A massive fire burning through the desert in California and southern Nevada has scorched tens of thousands of acres in a biodiverse national preserve and torched its iconic Joshua trees.
The York Fire – already California’s largest fire of the year – has burned more than 82,000 acres as of Wednesday morning, fire officials said. It began Friday in the New York Mountains of California’s Mojave National Preserve and crossed state lines into Nevada on Sunday.
The fire is burning through and threatening groves of Joshua trees – the branching, spiky plants of the Mojave Desert that can live more than 150 years.
Some of the trees have already fallen victim to the flames and burned, Marc Peebles, a spokesperson for California’s incident management team for the fire, confirmed to CNN on Wednesday.
The Mojave National Preserve is a significant hotspot for biodiversity, with one conservationist calling it the “crown jewel” of the deserts of Southern California. Joshua trees only grow in the Desert Southwest and far northwestern Mexico, and one of the densest Joshua tree forests is within the burn area, Cody Hanford, executive director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust, told CNN.
Now, after a few rounds of rain moved over the area from Monday night to Wednesday morning, firefighters have been able to make progress along the fire’s border and it was 30% contained as of Wednesday morning.
But the damage to the landscape will last long after the flames are put out.
“If an area with Joshua trees burns through, most will not survive and reproduction in that area is made more difficult,” the National Park Service says.
In 2020, a 43,273-acre wildfire burned through the Joshua tree woodland of California’s Cima Dome, destroying as many as 1.3 million Joshua trees and leaving behind a plant graveyard, according to the National Park Service.
Sixty-seven active, large fires were burning in 11 states as hot and dry conditions persist throughout the US, the center said Tuesday. More than 1.1 million acres have burned across the US in 2023 as of Tuesday, the center said.