Australian firefighters save prehistoric trees in covert 'military-style' mission

Taylor Watson

A rare pine species in a secret location in Australia — thought to have existed among the dinosaurs — has been spared from the bushfire, thanks to a "military-style" rescue mission.

Wollemi National Park is the only place the Wollemi Pine grows in the wild, but the exact location is kept secret to avoid potential contamination by visitors. The mission was largely covert to preserve grove's undisclosed position in the park, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

To prevent the historic grove from facing the same fate as much of Australia's wildlife, firefighters dropped fire retardant, employed water-bombing aircraft, and were helicoptered into a remote area to set up irrigation to increase moisture content.

The trees have survived fires before, said Cris Brack, associate professor at the Australian National University, but this year they are "abnormally hot and large." A few trees were lost, but a remaining 200 survived, per the Herald.

Aging the trees is difficult, but they could be up to 100,000 years old. "When the pines were discovered in 1994, you might as well have found a living dinosaur," said New South Wales Environment and Energy Minister Matt Kean told the Herald.

Richard Kingsford, director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW, likened the grove to the "Opera House of the natural world."

"Losing it would have added to the catastrophe we have seen elsewhere," he said. Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald.

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