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Wildfire Engulfs History at California’s Oldest State Park – Photos of the Aftermath

Steve Palace
The Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters & Visitor Center was one of the structures lost to the blaze that tore through the 118-year-old state park Californias oldest. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Big Basin, the oldest State Park in California, has been severely damaged by an ongoing wildfire. On Tuesday the CZU August Lightning Complex blaze raged through the area, taking with it the fabled historic structures of the area.

While concerns were high for the famous redwoods – not to mention wildlife – it was man made structures which bore the brunt of the flames. The Park’s infrastructure, including the timber headquarters, was destroyed. Various other features are also no more, such as the lodge, ranger office and nature museum. It’s the HQ that may be missed most. Assembled by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936, the iconic building was on the National Register of Historic Places.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park itself was first opened in 1902. The beloved park is “home to the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco.” Its territory spreads out more than 18,000 acres in Santa Cruz County and is full of giant Redwoods – some of which are 300 feet tall and 50 feet round which first came onto this earth before the Roman Empire.

Big basin state park

Smoke hangs low in the air at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The blaze engulfed the area and the surrounding trees suffered an intense onslaught. Mercury News reports that “dozens near the park center had been torched up to the crown and their tops had burned off or broken.” Santa Cruz Sentinel notes, “Several of the massive trees near the headquarters building were still glowing red from the heat inside their trunks.”

big basin state park

Some pay phones are burned during a blaze that destroyed the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. (Photo by Randy Vazquez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

Redwoods, nature’s tallest trees, can put up a pretty good fight against fire. The bark grows to around a feet in thickness, meaning the older and bigger the tree, the better. Smithsonian Magazine writes this “acts as a barrier that prevents fire from reaching the vital nutrient-carrying wood underneath. And while some trees are doomed if a fire scorches their crowns, redwoods have buds beneath their bark that sprout new foliage after a fire.” That said, they’re far from indestructible. Many redwoods remain upright but some were burned through the base and tragically felled.

Big basin state park

The CZU August Lightning complex fires tore through Big Basin Redwoods State Park, decimating the 118-year-old state park Californias oldest. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The good news is the iconic sky touchers tend to come out on top. The Magazine mentions that “Researchers at San Jose State University tracked redwoods’ survival after lightning fires in 2008 and 2009 and found that almost 90 percent of burned redwoods survived.” That seems to be the case in Big Basin, according to the most up to date reports.

california wildfires

The bathrooms at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park didn’t survive the wildfire. (Photo by Randy Vazquez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

Santa Cruz’s District Superintendent for State Parks Chris Spohrer said in the Sentinel it’s “too early to tell what the long-term damage is going to be to those trees.” Big Basin is seen as the American home for redwoods, or “”Sequoioideae”. Not only was it California’s first State Park, opened in 1902, it introduced the idea of looking after the trees for future generations. The redwoods have grown here for thousands of years.

Big basin state park headquarters

The 1936 Big Basin State Park HQ before the fire. It was on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Karl Mondon/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

Referring to the park website, the Magazine states “Native American tribes managed the land at Big Basin for at least 10,000 before the Spanish arrived in the 1700s”. Ancient knowledge of how to nurture the trees is only just being consulted by authorities. Wildfires aside, redwoods faced the logger’s axe and nearly went extinct during the days of the Gold Rush.

california wildfires

Sad aftermath of the wildfire at the state park. This is what the historic HQ building looks like now.  (Photo by Randy Vazquez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

This latest threat to the Californian wilderness started from the heavens. CNN reports, “There were approximately 12,000 lightning strikes that started 585 fires in the state over the past week.” 4 people are believed to have lost their lives and over 13,000 firefighters are working round the clock to tackle the flames. Current assessments say it’s a losing battle but we will see. A million plus acres have faced the heat so far.

The LNU and SCU Lightning Complexes are the third and second biggest fires in California history respectively. Quoted by CNN, Incident Commander Sean Kavanaugh said, “To have both of those going off at the same time is saying something … it gives us the magnitude of what has happened here in the last week here in the state.”

Related Article: After the Fire – Historic Buildings Gloriously Rebuilt After Devastating Fires

The Sentinel quotes Save the Redwoods League President Sam Hodder, who says about losing the historic structures at Big Basin State Park: “To have lost something that has been transforming people’s lives for more than 110 years, such an iconic place, such a terrific example of what parks mean to communities, it’s heartbreaking.”

Steve is a writer and comedian from the UK. He’s a contributor to both The Vintage News and The Hollywood News and has created content for many other websites. His short fiction has been published by Obverse Books.