Specialist firefighters have saved the world’s last remaining wild stand of a prehistoric tree from wildfires that razed forests west of Sydney, officials said on 16 January.
Firefighters winched from helicopters to reach the cluster of fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines in a remote gorge in the Blue Mountains a week before a massive wildlife bore down, National Parks and Wildlife Service director David Crust said.
The firefighters set up an irrigation system to keep the so-called dinosaur trees moist and pumped water daily from the gorge as the blaze that had burned out of control for more than two month edged closer.
Firefighting planes strategically bombed the fire front with fire retardant to slow its progress.
“That helped just to slow the intensity of the fire as it approached the site,” Crust told Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“The Wollemi Pine is a particularly important species and the fact that this is the only place in the world where they exist and they exist in such small numbers is really significant,” he added.
New South Wales state environment minister Matt Kean said the operation had saved the stand, although some plants had been singed.
“These pines outlived the dinosaurs, so when we saw the fire approaching we realised we had to do everything we could to save them,” Kean said.
The Wollemi Pine had only been seen in its fossilised form and was thought long extinct before the stand was found in 1994.
The fire that threatened it was brought under control this week after razing more than 510,000 hectares (1.26 million acres). The fire also destroyed 90% of the 5,000-hectare (12,400-acre) Wollemi National Park, where the rare trees grow, Crust said.
The exact location of the stand remains a closely guarded secret to help authorities protect the trees.
The Wollemi’s survival is one of the few positive stories to emerge from the unprecedented wildlife crisis in south-east Australia. 1.3 billion animals have potentially perished in the fires.
At least 28 people have also died since September. Meanwhile, the blazes have destroyed more than 2,600 homes and razed more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres), mostly in New South Wales state.
But the fire danger has been diminished by rain this week in several areas. The first green buds of regrowth have already emerged in some blackened forests following rain.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?