A fire whirl captured by Jan van Rooyen for Wikipedia Commons in 2016. Wikipedia Commons license.
01 Aug 2023

Dangerous fire whirls forming as massive wildfires are spreading along the west coast of North America in August 2023


A fire whirl captured by Jan van Rooyen for Wikipedia Commons in 2016. Wikipedia Commons license.
A fire whirl captured by Jan van Rooyen for Wikipedia Commons in 2016. Wikipedia Commons license. 

A massive, out-of-control fire burning across both California and Nevada is generating extreme fire behavior, creating “fire whirls” and creating dangerous conditions for firefighters, authorities said on August 1. 

According to CNN, the wildfire dubbed the York Fire, is California’s largest fire of the year,and  has consumed 77,000 acres.  It remains 0% contained as of Monday night. It began Friday in the New York Mountain Range of California’s Mojave National Preserve and crossed state lines into Nevada on Sunday. Winds had been increasing  in very hot temperatures.

Fire officials said Monday night that the fire on the California-Nevada state line is still “growing rapidly”,  creating extreme conditions.

Firefighters battling the fires have seen fire whirls – “a vortex of flames and smoke that forms when intense heat and turbulent winds combine, creating a spinning column of fire,” the Mojave National Preserve said Sunday. 

AP.com wrote about the phenomenon fire whirl — sometimes called fire tornado: it is  a “spinning column of fire” that forms when intense heat and turbulent winds combine, quoting 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 allegedly 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 whirls require high temperatures to form. In Searchlight, Nevada,  Monday’s high was 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius), according to the National Weather Service.


Fire crossed the US-Canada border  - but winds were favourable for a change

Another large fire burning in northern Washington state crossed the Canadian border from Washington and led to  evacuations over the weekend. Evacuation orders were in place Monday for 192 properties in the Canadian town of Osoyoos and areas south of the town within the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, RDOS information officer Erick Thompson said in a Monday press conference.

The CBC wrote on July 31 that there was some relief in Osoyos on Monday - Environment Canada was forecasting winds of up to 20 kilometres an hour blowing northwest throughout the day — the right direction to push the wildfire away from the town.

Hundreds of people were being allowed to return to their homes  after winds pushed back the  wildfire that threatened the town over the weekend. However; over 2,600 homes are under evacuation alert, and their residents must be ready to leave at short notice.


More fires in Washington state

A fire ignited Monday afternoon near Spokane, Washington, and led to mandatory evacuations for at least 20 residential properties. The West Hallett Fire had already burned 200 acres by Monday night, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

The Hayden Fire which is burning  across the Salmon-Challis National Forest 18 miles west of Leadore, Idaho, has burned over 18,000 acres since it started on July 19 and was only 5% contained as of Monday morning, the US Forest Service said in a tweet.


The US wildfire situation not nearly as difficult as Canada´s 

64 active large fires are burning across nine states, including 12 large new fires were reported on Sunday, the National Interagency Fire Center said Monday.

More than 11,500 wildland firefighters and other personnel are assigned to incidents throughout the US, the agency said.

As of July 31, 1.1 million acres have burned across the US in 2023, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. This is still well below the 5.7 million acres that had burned by the end of July in 2022.

In Canada, more than 30 million acres of land had burned in 2023 as of July 31, according to Wikipedia. This is reportedly about 3 percent of the forested land in the entire country.  

Wildfire season in Canada 2023 was already in the beginning of the summer considered the worst on record in the country, and has caused air quality alerts and smoky skies for tens of millions of people on both sides of the US border.  Smoke from Canadian wildfires also reached Europe in the end of June.   

Of the 1,042 active wildfires, 671 were deemed "out of control". International aid has helped reduce the impact of the fires. 





Photo Credit: A fire whirl captured by Jan van Rooyen for Wikipedia Commons in 2016. Wikipedia Commons license. Wikipedia Commons License