The fire scorched more than 344 square kilometres after growing by nearly 28 square kilometres in the last 24 hours, the Sequoia National Forest says.

Firefighters start a controlled burn near Sugarloaf as the Windy Fire expands in Sequoia National Forest, California US on September 26, 2021.
Firefighters start a controlled burn near Sugarloaf as the Windy Fire expands in Sequoia National Forest, California US on September 26, 2021. (Reuters)

California firefighters have battled fast-growing forest fires threatening giant sequoias and small communities in the Sierra Nevada and worked to fully surround a suspected arson wildfire that destroyed homes last week.

More than 2,000 firefighters were on the lines of the Windy Fire burning on the Tule River Indian Reservation and in Sequoia National Forest, including Giant Sequoia National Monument.

The fire had scorched more than 133 square miles (344 square kilometres) after growing by nearly 11 square miles (28 square kilometres) in 24 hours, according to a Sequoia National Forest statement.

Just 2 percent of the fire was contained.

READ MORE: California firefighters scramble to protect sequoia groves 

Evacuation orders

Numerous small communities were under evacuation orders or warnings to be prepared to leave. Some 2,000 residences and 100 commercial properties were threatened. Two commercial structures have been destroyed.

To the north in Sequoia National Park, two fires that were ignited by lightning and then merged covered more than 73 square miles (189 square kilometres) after experiencing large growth during the weekend. 

The KNP Complex was 8 percent contained, according to a statement from Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, which have both been forced to close.

On the fire’s northern perimeter, firefighters used controlled burns to clear vegetation from Muir Grove, a hidden group of giant sequoias found at the end of a trail.

A week ago, the famous ancient trees of Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest were protected from the fire because of its history of prescribed burns. The bases of some trees were also wrapped in fire-resistant material.

In the far north end of California’s Central Valley, the Fawn Fire was 60% contained after destroying 184 homes and other buildings in an unincorporated area north of the city of Redding.

Firefighters were focusing on mopping up and patrolling to prevent further spread of the fire, said Josh Bischof, an operations section chief with the incident management team.

A 30-year-old woman was arrested last week on suspicion of starting the Fawn Fire.

A historic drought in the American West tied to climate change is making wildfires harder to fight. It has killed millions of trees in California alone. 

Scientists say climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Source: AP