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Australian Firefighters Save Groves Of Prehistoric Wollemi Pines

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A prehistoric tree species was narrowly saved from extinction as fires continued this week in Australia. They are called Wollemi pines.

DAVID CRUST: They're a particularly important species because they're so critically threatened. And this is the only population that occurs in the world.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That is David Crust. He's the director of Blue Mountains National Park, and he's an expert on the pines. These tall, thin trees are kept in a secret location to protect them.

CRUST: There's less than 200 plants that exist in one deep, remote, rugged, gorge in Wollemi National Park.

KING: Up until 1994, these pines were thought to be extinct, but they flourished in prehistoric times.

CRUST: We know that they were widespread through this region through that Jurassic period. We know that from fossil records.

MARTIN: In the past couple of weeks, it became clear that the wildfires were headed toward the pines, and conservationists then went into action.

CRUST: We basically installed an irrigation system, a pumping and sprinkler system.

MARTIN: A specialized team of firefighters also laid fire retardant and dumped water from helicopters.

KING: And so when the fire got there, some of the canopy was scorched and some of the younger pines were burned, but Crust says, in the end, the efforts really paid off.

CRUST: As a population, we think that the species has been protected. We think that they'll be OK. It's been a very, very difficult period. So this is a little bit of good news amongst some very difficult times.

KING: So some hope for this ancient species yet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.