As of this week, the Australia bushfires have burned 15.6 million acres of land, killed 28 people, and killed about a billion animals, according to the BBC — and the fires are still burning. But amidst all that, the country's government managed to safeguard one very important grove of land, in what CNN called a "secret government mission." The grove contains a cluster of prehistoric Wollemi Pine trees, which have reportedly existed for about 200 million years, having once stood amongst the dinosaurs.
The Willemi Pine grove can be found in a secret location in the Wollemi National Park just outside of Sydney, according to CNN. The grove contains less than 200 Wollemi Pine trees, which are the Earth's last remaining Wollemi Pine trees on record.
Because the fires were such a serious threat to land in New South Wales (the state Sydney is in), local government officials called upon New South Wales firefighters to help save the ancient trees. The team carried this out by dropping large air tankers of fire retardant inside the grove, and then having other firefighters — who were rappelled down from helicopters — set up an irrigation system amongst the trees, according to a press release on the NSW government website.
"Wollemi National Park is the only place in the world where these trees are found in the wild and, with less than 200 left, we knew we needed to do everything we could to save them," Matt Kean, the New South Wales Minister for Energy and Environment, said in a statement. “The pines, which prior to 1994 were thought to be extinct and whose location is kept secret to prevent contamination, benefited from an unprecedented environmental protection mission.”
According to Kean, the mission — which was the first of its kind — was a success. “The 2019 wildfire is the first ever opportunity to see the fire response of mature Wollemi Pine in a natural setting, which will help us refine the way we manage fire in these sites long-term," he said.
However, now that the trees are safe from the fires does not mean you should go try to see them. “Illegal visitation remains a significant threat to the Wollemi Pines survival in the wild due to the risk of trampling regenerating plants and introducing diseases which could devastate the remaining populations and their recovery," said Kean. While there's nothing like seeing a natural wonder in the flesh, making sure people keep away from the grove is key in protecting the unique and rare trees.
While this time of year always marks bushfire season in Australia, this year's fires have been the most deadly the country has ever seen. Thanks to symptoms of the climate crisis, including rising temperatures, dry weather, drought, and heavy winds in Australia, the country's bushfire season started much earlier than it should have season, and resulted in endless destroyed land, evacuations, and deaths (of both humans and animals); additionally, the fires are already causing air pollution, respiratory issues, increased CO2 in the atmosphere, and more.
If you want to donate to Australia fire relief efforts, click here for a few charities in need of donations.