Save Calaveras Big Trees

Sign petition to Governor Newsom:

Thank you so much! Tom Van Lokeren & Marcie Powers co-founders

The front page of the LA Times print edition July 26
featured a story on the torching of The Orphans at Big Trees and the movement that was born:

Outrage after fire damages beloved sequoias
        The 5-century-old ‘Orphans’ are roasted in a controlled burn.
One may not survive

Below is a link to the e-edition 7.12.23, the same story with a different headline
and five photos instead of one

Photos below: the risky, unsafe condition of the South Grove

Photos by Tom Van Lokeren/Marcie Powers July 2023


In the above photos you see a few of the thousand Giant Sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park’s South Grove. In two of the photos the Giant Sequoias are surrounded and hemmed in by smaller and medium sized trees — ladder fuels (ladder fuels convey flames from the surface level up into the crown, the top part of a tree from which branches, leaves, needles etc. grow above the stem — the reproductive structures). As a result these two Giant Sequoias are extremely vulnerable to a crown fire which means in most cases mortality for the tree. A crown fire can jump from tree to tree and easily get out of control.

In another photo you see a buildup of highly flammable small trees, brush and dead vegetation on the forest floor next to the ladder fuels and the Giant Sequoias. This continuity between the fuel on the forest floor and the ladder fuels is the perfect recipe for a crown fire — or crown killing radiant heat from a prescribed burn like the one that severely damaged The Orphans.

This hazardous, unsafe, menacing condition is repeated over and over again among the hundreds of Giant Sequoias in the South Grove. This danger is compounded exponentially by the climate crisis induced drought.


Below – stills from Scientific American film “Guardians” – aftermath of the Castle Fire in 2020/The Paradise Fire from a satellite/Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest State Park. 97 percent of the Park was consumed by the CZU lightning fire in 2020.

THE PROVERB: “A STITCH IN TIME SAVES NINE” can really be applied to the situation at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The State of California by spending millions of dollars upfront to mitigate the conditions for severe wildfire can avoid a huge multiple of that in the cost of restoring the Park after a severe wildfire consumes the Park like that which happened in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

The caption above in part states: “The governor’s $267.8 billion budget plan for the coming fiscal year includes $217 million for wildfire restoration, almost all of it pegged for Big Basin”. So this money is going to be used to rebuild a state park that was completely destroyed in a catastrophic wildfire.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park has received a tiny fraction of what will be spent to rebuild Big Basin — about $7 to 8 million recently — to harden itself against catastrophic wildfire. This amount has been deemed by experts to be sorely inadequate to achieve that goal. Wouldn’t it make sense for the State of California to increase that amount to a level which truly goes the distance in protecting Calaveras Big Trees State Park from a catastrophic wildfire and avoid repeating what happened to Big Basin. Isn’t there a very valuable financial lesson to be learned from Big Basin?

Save Calaveras Big Trees: We are a grassroots organization born out of the negligent TORCHING by Calaveras Big Trees State Park of two iconic, ancient Giant Sequoias named THE ORPHANS in the 1800s. The severe damage to THE ORPHANS in an uncontrolled prescribed burn was a wake up call — and a warning shot telling us that WE AND THE GIANT SEQUOIAS ARE AT SERIOUS RISK.

Our mission:
To urge the Governor of California to pull out all the stops and commit the necessary critical additional resources for desperately needed fuels reduction in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, where an astonishingly overgrown forest makes the 1100 Giant Sequoias & surrounding communities extremely vulnerable to catastrophic fire ….. by:

  • forest thinning
  • removal of the massive buildup of dead vegetation on the forest floor and thousands of dead trees
  • removal of ladder trees next to the Giant Sequoias
  • removal of trees actually growing up into the crowns of the Giant Sequoias
  • properly preparing areas where prescribed burns will take place
  • WE ARE IN URGENT, EMERGENCY TERRITORY HERE. “THE ORPHANS” are THE CANARIES in the COAL MINE. If THE PARK cannot successfully carry out a small PRESCRIBED BURN without severely damaging TWO 700-1200 year-old GIANT SEQUOIAS, how can WE BE ASSURED THAT THEY CAN SAFELY AND SUCCESSFULY carry out a LARGE PRESCRIBED BURN in the choked-out South Grove?


    Guy McCarthy, veteran journalist for the Union Democrat, who has written a dozen or more articles about the threat to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, wrote this last year:

    “Everything I saw up there beyond Beaver Creek and near Big Trees Creek looked like an inferno waiting to happen….
    What I saw in and near the Calaveras South Grove Natural Preserve looks as badly overgrown and choked-out as any sick forest I’ve seen in Southern and Central California over the past two decades”.

    Sign petition to Governor Newsom:

    We invite you to join us in this critical advocacy work! Please sign the petition, and email or text us to get involved. Thanks so much!

    Tom Van Lokeren, Co-Founder  209.283.9505

    Marcie Powers, Co-Founder & former Vice President of Calaveras Big Trees Association, the Park’s nonprofit partner & former chair of its Forest Resilience Committee  209.283.4801

    We invite you to take in the compelling story below including newspaper and television coverage and powerful imagery. Thank you for taking the time!

    Are we going to be the next Paradise, CA where more than 11,000 homes burned down and 85 people died in 2018 or Lahaina, HI where the whole town burned to the ground and more than a hundred people died?

    Are the 1000 sequoias in the South Grove going to be compromised by fire in the planned 1300 acre prescribed burn in the fall of 2023?

    The answer may lie in the news stories below:

    “Prescribed fire severely damages pair of iconic giant sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park” – Union Democrat June 2023

    Tap link below to go to article:

    “Centuries-old sequoias damaged during prescribed burn at California park. One may not survive” – Sacramento Bee/Modesto Bee June 2023

    Tap link below to go to article

    In a prescribed burn in October 2022 the Giant Sequoias known as The Orphans were torched.


    Photo by Guy McCarthy/Union Democrat

    The Park’s negligence during the prescribed burn just discovered in June 2023, was the latest wakeup call on the severe vulnerability of our sequoias and communities to catastrophic wildfire. It should be noted that all the national news media follows in the footsteps of the Union Democrat, which has published nearly a dozen front page stories over the past year-and-a-half. Reporter Guy McCarthy wrote in February a year ago about the Park’s nonprofit association’s advocacy for more resources for fuels reduction before prescribed burns. To see the choked forest for himself, he then went on a 20-mile, eight-hour hike in the South Grove.

    “Everything I saw up there beyond Beaver Creek and near Big Trees Creek looked like an inferno waiting to happen….

    What I saw in and near the Calaveras South Grove Natural Preserve looks as badly overgrown and choked-out as any sick forest I’ve seen in Southern and Central California over the past two decades.”

    CBS Evening News June 2023


    Tap on text below to go to live link:


    The narrative below tells a story of how negligence and lack of vigilance at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, during the October 2022 prescribed burn in the North Grove, resulted in the severe damage of two giant sequoias called The Orphans and possibly the death of one.

    Photo By Guy McCarthy/Union Democrat 

    The Orphans in February 2022 – 7 months before the prescribed burn


    Photo By Guy McCarthy/Union Democrat

    The Orphans in June 2023–first discovered torched 7 months after the prescribed burn of October 2022.

    It burned so hot and through convection the heat of the fire killed all the branches and needles of the trees surrounding The Orphans. That same heat scorched The Orphans all the way up to their crowns, baking 99 percent of the crown’s needles of the Orphan on the right most likely killing it and baking 80 percent of the crown’s needles of the one on the left. This Orphan has a chance of surviving.

    Note: the State lied to the public, stating that only one of The Orphans was badly damaged and that press statement was never corrected.

    These two Giant Sequoias are the canary in the coal mine so to speak and a wake up call for those who love the Giant Sequoias and Calaveras Big Trees State Park and those that live in the Upper Highway 4 Corridor in proximity to Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

    If more ground vegetation had been removed adjacent to the two sequoias and a number of the trees adjacent to the two sequoias had been cut down there would have been less fuel for the fire to burn so hot and a different outcome for The Orphans.

    There are approximately 1000 Giant Sequoias in the South Grove of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The Park plans on doing a prescribed burn of the 1300 acre grove in the fall of 2023.

    The dead vegetation near and the trees in close proximity to each of those 1000 Giant Sequoias is orders of magnitude greater than was at The Orphans. If the Park prepares those sequoias like they prepared The Orphans — as they plan to do — the prescribed burn might result in a similar outcome as The Orphans for many of the Giant Sequoias in the South Grove. 

    For emphasis — again: The photo of a Giant Sequoia in the South Grove that is representative of the 1000 Giant Sequoias there.  

    This is a recipe for significant harm to the Giant Sequoias or their mortality, in a catastrophic wildfire or an out-of-control prescribed burn.
    Thank you for reading the content of this website!
    Tom Van Lokeren – Founder