Extremely rare ‘firenado’ spins up over wildfire in California

Click to play video: '‘Firenado’ seen forming in footage of California’s Loyalton fire'
‘Firenado’ seen forming in footage of California’s Loyalton fire
WATCH: Footage of California's Loyalton fire, burning northwest of Reno, Nev., near the state line, appears to show the formation of a rare fire tornado, or “firenado.” As of Monday morning, the fire had grown to 200,000 acres – Aug 17, 2020

This is not fine.

The year 2020 has already served up murder hornets, government UFO videos and a coronavirus pandemic, so it should come as no surprise that California is facing a rare, over-the-top threat: firenadoes.

Videos captured in northern California show a towering column of smoke and flame spinning up over the Loyalton Fire on Saturday, in an incident that alarmed state weather officials.

“Firenadoes are an extreme weather phenomenon that can occur with rotating fire columns,” the U.S. National Weather Service in Reno, Nev., tweeted on Saturday. The NWS issued a tornado warning at the time due to “tornadic pyrocumulus” clouds of smoke in Roberts Canyon, Calif.

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“As if the shark ones weren’t bad enough,” one user replied, in a nod to the fictional Sharknado films.

This photo provided by Katelynn and Jordan Hewlett, a funnel appears in a thick plume of smoke from the Loyalton Fire in Lassen County, Calif. on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. Katelynn & Jordan Hewlett via AP

Several people shared photos and videos of the towering firenado over the weekend.

Weather officials say the firenado was caused by high winds colliding with heavy smoke from the Loyalton Fire, which has burned more than 117 square kilometres near Lake Tahoe. The blaze has also triggered evacuation near the California-Nevada border west of Reno, Nev.

“This is probably the most widespread and violent summer thunderstorm event in memory for Bay Area, & it’s also one of the hottest nights in years,” tweeted Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, early Sunday.

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Firefighters spent much of the weekend battling the flames, which threatened to overwhelm the community of Chilcoot.

A rare thunderstorm helped stoke wildfires in Northern California on Sunday, with strong winds spreading existing fires and lightning strikes starting new ones. Gusts of up to 24 kilometres per hour helped push some fires up hillsides.

“We set up a containment line at the top of the hills so the fire doesn’t spill over to the other side and cause it to spread, but it was obviously difficult given the erratic wind and some other conditions,” fire spokesperson Jake Miller told the Associated Press.

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Fire tornadoes are extremely rare but not unheard of. A massive firenado formed near Redding, Calif., in July 2018, where it killed one firefighter. The firenado was about the size of three football fields at its peak.

Click to play video: 'New footage shows ‘Firenado’ which killed firefighter in California'
New footage shows ‘Firenado’ which killed firefighter in California

The 2018 firenado developed out of a cloud formed by the fire itself, a study of the incident concluded. That cloud reached nearly 12 kilometres into the sky and was topped with ice, which allowed it to stretch and rotate a column of air into tornado-strength winds, the study found.

California is currently suffering through a blistering heatwave that forced officials to impose rolling electricity blackouts.

The state may have also recorded the highest-ever temperature on Earth Sunday in Death Valley, where the mercury topped 130 Fahrenheit (54.4 Celsius) on one thermometer.

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