California’s Largest Wildfire Spawned Two Massive Firenados
The west coast of the United States has been tackling multiple wildfires for weeks on end, but the situation was made worse when California’s largest blaze spawned two huge fire tornados.
The Creek Fire started on September 4 and remains just 34% contained after tearing across the land for almost three weeks. It has burned 291,426 acres in the Sierra National Forest near Shaver and Huntington lakes, and towards the southern border of Yosemite National Park.
Fire tornados, aka firenados, are rare, but the Creek Fire spawned two of them just a day after it began.
Yesterday, September 24, government forecasters said the firenados proceeded to wreak havoc across the area as a result of ‘unprecedented fire behaviour’. One sparked near Huntington Lake and the other near Mammoth Pool, where a rescue operation airlifted hundreds of trapped people to safety.
One of the swirling blazes had winds of up to 125mph and was rated an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which rates the intensity of tornadoes in some countries. An EF-2 tornado has winds between 111–135mph and can cause considerable damage.
The other firenado had winds of up to 100 miles per hour and was rated an EF-1.
CNN meteorologist Haley Brink explained that fire tornadoes are created when the rising heat from a fire pulls in smoke, fire and dirt, creating a rotation vortex above the blaze.
Meteorologist Taylor Ward commented:
To have even one tornado within a fire is rare. Fires can lead to fire whirls – kind of like a dust devil – due to differential heating, but to get a tornado with winds of over 100mph is quite unusual.
The National Weather Service in Hanford, California determined the strength of the tornados based on observed tree damage. The report revealed the blaze-fuelled tornados uprooted pine trees, snapping several two-foot diameter trees and stripping bark from their trunks.
The surveys would have been conducted sooner, but remnant smoke caused visibility limitations and made it challenging to get to the damaged regions until recently.
Jerald Meadows, meteorologist at the National Weather Service, told CNN this year’s historic wildfires have generated intense heat, which in turn have created vortexes.
He can’t say for certain whether the state is seeing more firenados than in the past, though he assured we will learn more as the technology has improved to track and monitor their formation.
The Creek Fire grew rapidly following its inception during periods of hot and dry weather combined with strong winds.
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