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California's largest wildfire whips up fire whirls in Mojave National Preserve

The largest wildfire burning in California generated dangerous natural phenomena known as fire whirls as it grew to more than 77,000 acres on the state’s border with Nevada.

The York Fire started Friday in the remote Caruthers Canyon area of California’s Mojave National Preserve, more than 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles, and crossed into Nevada during days of unrelenting extreme heat in Southern California’s San Bernardino County. Strong winds fanned flames and pushed smoke into the Las Vegas Valley, casting a haze that blotted out the sun in the area.

There is no containment.

On Sunday, firefighters reported spectacular, but dangerous, fire whirls on the northern flank of the York Fire. Photos posted on the Mojave National Preserve’s Facebook page showed what looked like a tornado touching down, but the swirling cloud of smoke and flames was rising from the desert floor.

Also known as a fire tornado and taking on the appearance of dust devils, fire whirls form a spinning column of fire generated by extreme heat and wind, the National Park Service said. The whirlwind of smoke and fire can grow to several hundred feet high with significant rotational speeds.

“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 formed during triple-digit heat that has gripped the West for days. Whipped by strong winds, the spinning columns can spread embers over long distances that create spot fires that break containment lines and grow into new fires.

Whirls also can change direction suddenly, a nightmare of nature for firefighters as they try to stop fires from spreading.

“This weather is extremely dangerous for firefighters battling the fires,” according to the Mojave National Preserve post.

Details about a cause of the York Fire were not immediately available. The fire started on private land within the nature preserve.

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Source: NBC Los Angeles

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