The rare and ancient Wollemi pine has been protected from the NSW bushfires by a specialist team of firefighters.

With less than 200 trees left in the wild, the critically endangered Wollemi pine, which fossil records date back to 200 million years, are in an unknown location within the Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains. The exact location has been kept top-secret, in a bid to save the species.

As the Gospers Mountain fire threatened the national park, a team of remote area firefighters was secretly deployed to take drastic measures to save the trees. The fire-fighting effort, which was co-ordinated by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Rural Fire Service, saw fire retardant dropped around the trees and firefighters winched from helicopters into the area to install an irrigation system around the gorge in which the trees are located.

NSW Environment and Energy Minister Matt Kean has said, ‘It was like a military-style operation… We just had to do everything.’

The post-fire scientific assessment declared that although some of the trees were charred, the species would continue to survive in the wild.

The species, which once made up large forested areas in Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica, was believed to be extinct until researchers discovered the cluster of trees in 1994. Since then, the trees have been propagated and distributed to botanic gardens around the world in an effort to save the species. But the trees found in this secret location are the only ones known to still exist in the wild.

‘The 2019 wildfire is the first-ever opportunity to see the fire response of mature Wollemi pines in a natural setting, which will help us refine the way we manage fire in these sites long-term,’ Kean said.