INVERNESS (CBS SF) — Firefighters working to control the 3,072-acre Woodward Fire witnessed one of Mother Nature’s most frightening weather phenomena Saturday — a whirling column of flame known as a fire whirl or firenado.
The rare event was captured on video during the burn-out operations near the Point Reyes National Seashore Visitor Center.
A fire whirl is a spinning vortex of ascending hot air caused by a fire. Fire whirls range in size from less than 1ft to over 500ft in diameter. This one was seen today during the burn out operations near the Point Reyes National Seashore Visitor Center. #WoodwardFire pic.twitter.com/OTL5xZjJlI
— Point Reyes NPS (@PointReyesNPS) August 30, 2020
The blaze, burning in heavy 4-to-8-feet tall scrub and old growth timber along the Marin county coast line, was ignited August 18th by dry lightning strikes in the wilderness area of the sprawling Point Reyes National Seashore.
“Fire is burning in area lacking recent fire history,” National Park officials said in a news release. “Fire activity increased (Saturday) after the marine layer eroded on the higher portions of the fire.”
As of Sunday morning the fire was 15 percent contained and was being battled by 537 local and federal ‘hot shot’ firefighting crews.
While the Woodward fire whirl was rather small, short lived and caused no injuries or damage, firefighters have seen more of this kind of behavior while fighting California wildfires over the last few years.
On Aug. 15, the National Weather Service issued a fireando warning while firefighters were battling an wildfire in the eastern Sierra.
“A pyrocumulonimbus from the Loyalton Fire is capable of producing a fire induced tornado and outflow winds in excess of 60 mph,” the weather service warned at the time. “It was located south of Chilcoot and is nearly stationary. This is extremely dangerous for firefighters.”
— Reno Mircoburst (@ZavalaLuke) August 15, 2020
The same phenomena was spotted by firefighters battling the Hog Fire near Susanville in July.
Photographer Josh Edelson said the fire became extremely erratic when a pyrocumulonimbus ash plume created its own weather. A fire tornado, also known as a fire whirl or firenado was spotted crossing Highway 36 near Susanville.
Fire tornadoes have occurred in previous California wildfires. During the Carr Fire that tore through Redding in 2018, the National Weather Service determined that a firewhirl packed winds topping 143 miles per hour, a wind speed equivalent to an EF 3 tornado on the Fujita scale.