How firefighters saved prehistoric Wollemi Pine tree

Special Australian firefighters, dispatched by helicopter in a secret operation to a remote gorge northwest of Sydney, have saved the last remaining wild stand of prehistoric trees that were threatened by the country’s raging wildfires, official said.

At risk were Wollemi Pines, numbering less than 100, growing in the wild in the Blue Mountains of Wollemi National Park, 80 miles northwest of Sydney.

The species, dubbed “dinosaur trees,” dates back more than 200 million years, according to Australia’s Department of Environment and Conservation.

The Wollemi Pine had only been seen in its fossilized form and was thought long extinct before the stand was found in 1994.

Firefighters were dropped from helicopters into the gorge about a week before fires that have swept much of Australia bore down on the area, said National Parks and Wildlife Service Director David Crust. 

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In this photo taken early January 2020, and provided Jan. 16, 2020, by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, a Wollemi pine tree sapling grows on the forest floor in the Wollemi National Park, New South Wales, Australia. Specialist firefighters have saved the world’s last remaining wild stand of a prehistoric tree from wildfires that razed forests west of Sydney.

The operation was kept secret in order to avoid revealing the exact location of the highly endangered trees.

“It was like a military-style operation,” NSW Environment and Energy Minister Matt Kean told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We just had to do everything.”

The operation involved setting up an irrigation system to keep the trees moist and pumping water daily from the gorge as the fires, which have burned out of control for more than two months, got closer.

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