Race to save ancient Italian olive tree engulfed by wildfires

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Race to save ancient Italian olive tree engulfed by wildfires
A man shows an olive grove destroyed by the fires actively burning around the town of Cuglieri on the island of Sardinia on July 26, 2021. - Firefighting aircraft from France and Greece arrived in Italy following an appeal for help in taming fires raging across parts of Sardinia that have forced hundreds of people from their homes. (Photo by Valentina SINIS / AFP)

Scientists in Sardinia are hoping a thousand-year-old olive tree nearly destroyed by recent fires can be saved, mobilising volunteers to stand guard around the remains of the ancient tree.


"The Patriarch", as it is known, was a massive wild olive tree on the west of the Italian island, with a trunk about 10 metres around and 16.5 metres high.

But it was nearly completely devoured by flames that ripped through the area last weekend, when over 20,000 hectares burned in the worst fires seen on the island in decades.

READ ALSO: ‘A disaster without precedent’: Sardinia wildfires ravage west of Italian island


The blaze destroyed homes and killed livestock as it ravaged thousands of Sardinia's olive trees, along with juniper groves, cork trees, oaks and pines.

After an examination of the tree earlier this week, experts said they hoped there might be signs of life in the root system and the side of the trunk that was spared the worst burns.

An olive grove destroyed by the fires around the town of Cuglieri, Sardinia. (Photo by Valentina SINIS / AFP)

The community of Cuglieri has organised volunteers to stand guard to prevent people from walking on its fragile root systems on the advice of experts, including botanist Gianluigi Bacchetta of Cagliari University.

"Keeping this tree alive means keeping everyone's hope alive," he said of the specimen, which registered on Italy's list of monumental trees.

Bacchetta said after an examination of the area on Wednesday that water added to the soil around the tree had helped lower its temperature.

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you see a wildfire in Italy

Another scientist who surveyed the damage, University of Sassari botany professor Ignazio Camarda, wrote on Facebook that all that was left of the mighty tree were "miserable remains that lie on the ground and a few blackened stumps, as well as a section of the base".

But he also noted "a glimmer of life from which a new sapling could emerge".

Firefighters were still on the ground in western Sardinia on Friday, extinguishing new outbreaks and clearing areas, even as scorching temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius and winds mean that the risk of fire remains high.



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