Northern California’s Dixie Fire generated its own upper typhoon Monday due to unusual weather conditions, with wild winds and “extreme, extreme” conditions accelerating the rate of its spread, officials said.
The “Pyro Cumulonimbus” cloud system formed as the impact of a southwest monsoon surge reached the fire zone in Butte County. Hot air rising rapidly from the tallest pillars of fire, combined with monsoon moisture, creates ripe conditions for stormy skies.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Corey Mueller, a National Weather Service meteorologist for the Sacramento area. “You don’t want to see an electric shock from a fire – it’s obviously dangerous for anyone fighting a fire, but when you do see it, it means you have the potential for a very intense fire. “
The Dixie fire broke out last week about 10 miles from the community of Paradise. It remained relatively stable for several days – burning northeast and far from the footprint of the 2018 Camp Fire – before erupting over the weekend.
By Tuesday morning, the fire had grown to about 60,000 acres, up from about 40,000 acres Monday night, and was brought under control by about 15%. Two structures have been destroyed, with over 800 in danger.
Evacuation orders and warning areas have been expanded to include the Highway 70 communities of Jonesville, Philbrook, High Lakes, Seneca, Bucks Lake, Snake Lake, Meadow Valley, Tollgate and Rock Creek, Storey, Tobin, Belden and Twain. Highway 70 is closed between Jerbo Gap and Highway 89.
At a briefing, Cal Fire event meteorologist Julia Ruthford said that pillars of fire peaked at about 30,000 feet early in the week and climbed even higher on Monday afternoon as mid-level moisture accumulated upward. Went.
“There was some lightning next to it and some really strong, erratic winds because of that extreme, extreme conditions,” Ruthford said. “Overall, we have been in an extremely significant fire weather pattern.”
NWS’s Mueller said it is “quite unusual” for a fire to create its own season. But Dixie isn’t the only flame to do so this week: The massive 388,000-acre bootleg fire along the Oregon border also generated pyrocumulonimbus activity over the past few days, allowing for dramatic spread and strong winds.
The unexpected event came during a challenging wildfire season up and down the West Coast. In Plumas County, the Beckworth complex had burned about 105,00 acres as of Tuesday morning and was about 88% contained, according to the US Forest Service. To the south, the Tamarack Fire in Alpine County engulfed about 40,000 acres.
By the end of the week, the chance of thunderstorms on the way to Dixie will decrease as humidity eases and conditions move into a more typical summer pattern, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s and 10-20 mph winds. Come back, Mueller said.
Crews plan to protect against unexpected surges in the Belden and Rich Bar areas on Tuesday and strengthen contingency lines from Chips Creek to High Lakes. But they also faced a sudden drop in humidity, which would mean trading one weather concern for another, Ruthford said.
“I wish I had better news on that front, but we are looking at more dry, humid weather,” she said.