The massive Carr Fire in Northern California, which ranks among one of the most destructive wildfires in state history, not only has burnt over 100-thousand acres of land, but has also recently spawned a powerful “firenado.” Similar to a tornado, this phenomena can also be known as a fire whirl.
Credit: Skip Murphy
These form when hot air from the fire rises, creating vertical columns, until it cools and becomes less dense as the air increases in altitude. As more air gets wrapped into this column, the suspended air begins to spin in a vortex. These “firenados” are just like dust devils but with added burning embers, ash, and malleable debris. This makes them very dangerous, as they act like a spinning tower of flames.
An unusually strong “firenado” developed Friday on the northern side of Redding, California. According to radar rendering, the plume of smoke that spawned the vortex rapidly underwent vertical development, growing from 19-thousand to 39-thousand feet in just 40 minutes. This rapid increase in height possibly explains why this particular “firenado” was so powerful.
This rapid vertical development likely also corresponded with a massive pyrocumulus cloud.
Heat is an important ingredient for the development of clouds. When you get an area of very intense heat, like from a wildfire, that can lead to the formation of a pyrocumulus cloud. This heat, which can reach temperatures greater than 1500°F, allows for the air to rapidly rise. Sometimes when there is enough moisture present in the atmosphere, the cloud may become a pyrocumulonimbus, or a thunderstorm.
How crazy is this?
A pyrocumulus cloud formed from the #CarrFire…
Can you help us understand how these form? pic.twitter.com/PBQx6PDdkw
— Kimberly Kolliner (@KimberlyKTVL) July 28, 2018
Twisted metal and fallen trees were the main results of this “firenado” on Friday. Typically, this type of vortex is weaker than a tornado, which forms directly from a thunderstorm, but this particular one was surprisingly strong.
Below is a gallery of the various damage it caused.