Specialized firefighters rescued the world’s last remaining wild tribune from a prehistoric tree from forest fires that razed forests west of Sydney, officials said Thursday.
Firefighters walked from helicopters to the cluster of less than 200 Wollemi pines in a remote gorge in the Blue Mountains, a week before massive nature crashed, said David Crust, direct from the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The firefighters set up an irrigation system to keep the prehistoric trees, also known as dinosaur trees, moist and to pump water out of the gorge daily as the outburst that had been burned out of control for more than two months came closer.
An aerial view of Wollemi National Park where endangered Wollemi Pines are protected from forest fires by a specialized team of remote firefighters and park staff in New South Wales, Australia. (NSW NPWS / Handout via Reuters)
Firefighting aircraft strategically bombarded the fire front with a fire retardant to slow down progress.
“That just helped to slow down the intensity of the fire as it approached the site,” Crust told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“The Wollemi Pine is a particularly important species and the fact that this is the only place in the world where they exist and occur in such small numbers is really important.”
A member of the specialized team of remote firefighters and park personnel spray water in an area with endangered Wollemi Pines to protect them from forest fires in Wollemi National Park. (NSW NPWS / Handout via Reuters)
Minister of the Environment, Matt Kean, said the operation had saved the state, although some plants had been sown.
“These pines survived the dinosaurs, so when we saw the fire approaching, we realized that we had to do everything we could to save them.”
The Wollemi Pine was only seen in its petrified form and was thought extinct for a long time before the stand was found in 1994.
The fire that threatened it was brought under control this week after having destroyed more than 510,000 hectares. The fire also destroyed 90 percent of the 5,000-acre Wollemi National Park, where the rare trees grow, Crust said.
A helicopter hovering above while a specialized team of remote firefighters and park personnel inspect the endangered Wollemi pines for bushfire damage in Wollemi National Park. (NSW NPWS / Handout via Reuters)
The exact location of the stand remains a well-kept secret to help the authorities protect the trees.
The survival of the Wollemi is one of the few positive stories from the unprecedented natural crisis in Southeast Australia.
The fires have claimed at least 28 lives since September, destroyed more than 2,600 homes and destroyed more than 10.3 million hectares, mostly in the state of New South Wales. The burnt area is larger than the US state of Indiana.
But the fire hazard has been reduced by rain this week in various areas. The first green buds of regrowth have already emerged in some black forests after rain.