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article imageIconic 1,000-year-old 'Elaho Giant' Douglas fir saved from fire

By Megan Hamilton     Jun 25, 2015 in Environment
Pemberton - Roots blackened, the mighty Elaho Giant, Canada's third largest tree, has survived a devastating wildfire, thanks to quick thinking by firefighters who worked tirelessly to "cool hotspots" near the huge tree's roots.
Thought to be the world's thickest Douglas fir, the tree's base is blackened, but still sprouting green needles, the District of Squamish said in a statement, according to The Huffington Post.
The Elaho Giant.  Truly spectacular.
The Elaho Giant. Truly spectacular.
YouTube screen grab Bas Rijniersce
Fortunately, Douglas firs have thick, protective bark and this makes the tree resistant to fire damage — the Elaho Giant has almost certainly seen numerous fires in its day.
It's thought that lightning sparked the 700-hectare (1,729 acre) fire in the Elaho Valley over the weekend, but by Wednesday, firefighters reported that the blaze was 40 percent contained.
When crews arrived on the scene, the Giant was surrounded by ash and "danger trees," which earned this name because their root systems have been burned off, putting them at imminent risk of falling, The National Post reports.
To access the tree, fire crews had to trek over steep and treacherous terrain to tamp the hotspots at the base of the giant's roots, said Fire Information officer Donna MacPherson on Monday.
On Tuesday, the District of Squamish was able to confidently announce to a worried public that the great tree had been saved.
Activists from the Wilderness Committee discovered the Giant while in the midst of a mid-1990s campaign to halt a road planned for the valley, said Joe Foy, the committee's national campaign director.
"As they were flagging a trail route, they ran into this gigantic Douglas fir tree," he said.
Intense protests against old-growth logging operations in the Upper Elaho Valley, which is the tree's home helped position the Giant as a major focal point for environmentalists, The National Post reported.
Located at the edge of a clearcut, this magnificent Douglas fir was given a reprieve in 1995.
Fortunately, now much of the Upper Elaho Valley is a protected area.
The top of this enormous tree has broken off, leaving it at only 50 meters tall. Rough estimates place its age at more than 1,000 years. However, no one has been able to obtain a core sample to confirm this, Foy said.
Core samples have been obtained from other nearby Douglas firs and it appears they may be as old as 1,300 years, meaning that the firs of the Elaho valley may be the oldest of their species on the planet, The National Post reports.
This stately giant has a circumference of nine meters (29 feet), and is 2.7 meters (8.8 feet) in diameter. It's circumference is large enough, in fact, that it would take five adult men holding hands to surround it, The Vancouver Sun reports.
British Columbia is truly a land of giant trees, and the world's largest Douglas fir is immense. With a circumference of 12 meters (just over 39 feet), the Red Creek Fir is located in Port Renfrew.
The Elaho Giant sits like a king among younger trees, and it's very likely that this isn't the first time the tree 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," Foy said. "That's what their bark is all about.
At 1,835 years old, a yellow cedar on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast is the oldest tree ever identified in a Canadian forest. Tragically that tree was felled in a 1980 clearcut, however its stump was discovered by activists in 1993, The National Post reports. This tree was a sapling in the year 145, when the Roman Empire was in power over what would become Great Britain.
Scores of people — including 112 firefighters and a 13-person incident management team have been fighting the blaze, along with five helicopters and two pieces of heavy equipment.
The forecast, however, calls for more hot, dry weather over the next week, and officials warn that the fire may continue to grow.
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