When wildfires grow hot and large enough, they can spawn towering, smoky clouds.
The Apple Fire burning in Southern California’s San Bernardino National Forest produced these big plumes, called pyrocumulus clouds, over the weekend. The new, active blaze has acres of parched land as of Monday morning, with conditions ripe for flames. The fire is only 5 percent contained.
“It’s very hot and dry and that area hasn’t burned in a long time, so there’s lots of fuel,” said a public information officer at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), referencing the ample supply of dried-out vegetation.
With enough heat, hot air rapidly rises into the atmosphere, called updrafts. These updrafts lift smoke, ash, and moisture high into the air. They’re a clear sign of an intense fire.
“Sometimes the fire creates its own weather patterns,” Cal Fire’s public information officer explained. “It intensifies the fire.” The column of smoke and ash can collapse, creating downdraft winds that further spread flames.
Nearly 2,300 firefighters are battling the blaze.
Every wildfire is a . California, which doesn’t experience much rain throughout the summer and fall, regularly burns this time of year. But a increases the frequency of conditions for spreading flames.