Special Australian firefighters, sent by helicopter in a secret operation to a remote gorge northwest of Sydney, have saved the last group of prehistoric trees that were threatened by the country’s wildfires, the official said.
At risk were Wollemi Pines, which total less than 100, that grow in the wild in the Blue Mountains of Wollemi National Park, 80 miles northwest of Sydney.
The species, called “dinosaur trees” It goes back more than 200 million years, according to the Australian Department of Environment and Conservation.
Wollemi Pine had only been seen in its fossilized form and was thought to have become extinct long before the position was found in 1994.
Firefighters were thrown from helicopters to the gorge about a week before the fires that swept across much of Australia spread over the area, said the director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, David Crust.
Forest fires in Austria:This is how you can help or donate
The operation was kept secret to avoid revealing the exact location of the trees in danger of extinction.
“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 consisted of establishing an irrigation system to keep the trees moist and pump water daily from the gorge as the fires, which have burned out of control for more than two months, were approaching.
At the same time, firefighters bombarded the most dangerous sections of the fire front with fire retardant.
“That helped decrease the intensity of the fire as it approached the site,” Crust told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“Wollemi pine is a particularly important species and the fact that this is the only place in the world where they exist and exist in such small quantities is really significant,” he added.
Carrots falling from the sky:Australia sheds 4,600 pounds of food, helicopter water to feed the hungry wallabies
Kean said the fire moved through the area, but the operation had protected the stand from destruction, although some plants were scorched. He said two plants were lost in the fire.
“These pines survived the dinosaurs, so when we saw the fire approaching we realized that we had to do everything we could to save them,” Kean said.
The fire that threatened the trees began in October, but was controlled this week after sweeping more than 2,000 square miles. The fire destroyed 90% of Wollemi National Park of 20 square miles, Crust said.
At least 28 people have died since September of a series of devastating fires that have destroyed more than 2,600 houses and razed more than 40,000 square miles, mainly in the state of New South Wales. The burned area is larger than the US state of Indiana.
Contributing: Associated Press