Crews battle ‘fire whirls’ in California blaze in Mojave Desert

31 July 2023

MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE, Calif. (AP) — Crews battled “fire whirls” in California’s Mojave National Preserve this weekend as a massive wildfire crossed into Nevada amid dangerously high temperatures and raging winds.

The York Fire was mapped at roughly 120 square miles (284 square kilometers) on Monday with no containment. The blaze erupted Friday near the remote Caruthers Canyon area of the vast wildland preserve, crossed the state line into Nevada on Sunday and sent smoke further east into the Las Vegas Valley.

Wind-driven flames 20 feet (6 meters) high in some spots charred tens of thousands of acres of desert scrub, juniper and Joshua tree woodland, according to an incident update.

A fire whirl — sometimes called a fire tornado — is a “spinning column of fire” that forms when intense heat and turbulent winds combine, according to the National Park Service.

The vortexes — which can be anywhere from a few feet tall to several hundred feet high, with varying rotational speeds — were spotted Sunday on the north end of the York Fire.

“While these can be fascinating to observe they are a very dangerous natural phenomena that can occur during wildfires,” the park service wrote.

The blaze was about 20% contained on Monday. Crews expected to face limited visibility due to the fire’s thick smoke. The cause of the York Fire remains under investigation.

To the southwest, the Bonny Fire burned about 3.6 square miles (9.3 square kilometers) in the rugged hills of Riverside County.

More than 1,300 people were ordered to evacuate their homes Saturday near the community of Aguanga that is home to horse ranches and wineries.

One firefighter was injured in the blaze.

Gusty winds and the chance of thunderstorms into Tuesday will heighten the risk of renewed growth, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement.

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