California Guard Rescues Nation’s Largest Ponderosa Pine
By Air Force Lt. Col. Lloyd J. Goodrow
Special to American Forces Press Service
HAYFORK, Calif., July 29, 2008 California National Guard’s Task Force Pick came to the rescue when wildfires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest here threatened the nation’s tallest Ponderosa pine tree.
Ponderosa pines are plentiful in the forests of the western United States and are among the most widely distributed pines in North America. They have an average height of 180 feet, and they usually can live for 300 to 600 years.
When the team of about 20 Guard firefighters reached the pine’s location, a few miles north of the Forest Glen campsite, they knew this tree was something special.
Standing at 240.5 feet high -- almost 24 stories -- with a trunk nearly eight feet thick and estimated at an age of 700 years, this tree had to be saved.
The significance of the tree was verified by the U.S Forest Service team member as being documented by American Forests’ National Register of Big Trees.
“It was a lot of hard work and heart that went into keeping this incredible tree safe,” said Army Spc. Diana Diaz. “This majestic tree has witnessed a lot of history and stands as a symbol for survival. There have been wildfires through these forests before, … and this tree still stands. We’re working hard to make sure that she makes it through this fire, too.”
That task wasn’t easy. With low-hanging branches, the tree was threatened by sparks and embers from nearby fires that could easily ignite the tree if the wind shifted just right.
The team of Guardsmen spent hours trimming the low-hanging threats and cleared a wide area around the tree that would eliminate any fuel source on the ground.
Two Guard members spent the entire day cutting down neighboring trees, and the rest of the team stacked piles of wood that would burn a safe distance from the tree. They also set up a water sprinkler system that will keep the cleared area moist.
“Rescuing a tree that some might consider a national treasure has been one of the most unusual missions I’ve ever been on,” said Army Spc. David Walker. “Being here in the Shasta-Trinity Forest with the other members of my unit has been a rough, but rewarding, mission. I’m proud to be here, and I’m very proud of my fellow soldiers who are serving here with me.”
(Air Force Lt. Col. Lloyd J. Goodrow serves with the Vermont National Guard.)