What is a ‘fire whirl,’ the rare weather phenomenon spotted in a California wildfire

‘Fire whirls’, a rare weather phenomenon related to wildfires, have recently been observed by firefighters battling a blaze on the California-Nevada border.

Context: Climate change is contributing to increasing the risk and intensity of wildfires, which can create their own weather patterns, such as fire whirls.
* A ‘fire whirl’ is formed when a wildfire plume merges with rotating air to create a spinning column of fire similar to a small tornado.
* These whirls are related to other extreme weather events such as dust devils, water spouts and fire tornadoes.

Risks: Fire whirls pose significant hazards due to their intensity and unpredictability, primarily for firefighters.
* Fire whirls can vary in size and speed and can change direction quickly.
* They have the potential to spread embers over large distances, igniting new fires.

Historical perspective: Fire whirls are not merely destructive, but can also cause substantial loss of life.
* The 1923 Tokyo earthquake resulted in fire whirls that killed nearly 40,000 people.
* In the U.S., these whirls have caused injuries among firefighters and instigated the deployment of emergency shelters.

Current situation: As of Wednesday, federal authorities observed fire whirls in the York Fire along the California-Nevada border, covering over 80,000 acres and reported to be 30% contained.
* The activity of the wildfire reportedly diminished owing to rainfall, but firefighters are being warned of potential dangers from the occurrence of fire whirls.

View original article on NPR

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